Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A jambalaya by any other name is just as amazing.

The evening is golden. The scattered thunderstorms have finally cleared after 36 hours of unrelenting rain and gloominess. In front of me is a bowl of ripe peaches from the Webster Flea Market that my brother and I ravaged this morning. There really is nothing like spending one whole dollar on five gorgeous emerald zucchini or two on a box of fresh okra as long as your hand and as thick as the zucchini. We spent one measly bill, and came home with a myriad of fresh vegetables and fruit. When I opened the trunk of my 1997 Chevy Prism that I drove all through high school after the market, the smell was almost unbearable. Between a basket of peaches, three pineapples, a watermelon, and several of my favorite Mexican mangoes, the trunk was like a Pandora’s box of fruit salad. Even as I sit in front of this bowl of unrepentant, fuzzy peaches, their perfumes runs in and out of my nose. I am certain that in a few years in early summer, I will be sitting in some far off place and some smell of ripe peaches will waft into my nostrils. This, I’m certain, will set of a Proustian chain of sense memory, about which I will be forced to write a ridiculously long memoir.

Last night, I attempted a Cuban black bean soup that ended up more like a andouille-challenged Jambalaya. It was fantastic though, I must admit. It even elicited a compliment from my brother, who is completely impossible to please with cooking other than his own. He even got up for seconds – the ultimate compliment. Of course the “jambalaya sans andouille” was topped with avocado cubes and crabmeat. Anything topped with avocado and crabmeat will bring a standing ovation to even the most somber of dinner tables – at least in my limited experience.

My mother is not used to my obsessive gourmandism quite yet. My projactulations of “Oh my heck, this chicken is AMAZING” or “This is the most beautiful mango,” or “I can’t wait to get my hands on those poblano peppers,” has taken her a little by surprise (happy surprise, I’m gathering). She makes comments like, “ I’m glad you’re so in love with the chicken, dear,” which sounds a lot to me like, “That chicken is the reason you’re not married,” or “ Calm down about the chicken, dear, you’re scaring away the boys.”

Regardless, my obsession with food will not relent. It will simply fester until it becomes something that chefs and editors alike will have to reckon with.

I’m trying to think of something to do with all of those zucchini. That tart is coming to mind from the June issue of Saveur – puff pastry, ricotta cheese, Monterey jack, lemon zest, and sliced zucchini. I think that sounds like a fabulous lunch for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wow! Chips and South African Wines

Risotto al Limone was a huge success. With the addition of steamed broccoli, it was a meal that packed enough carbs to be filling and enough fiber to keep your veggie-tooth satisfied. I didn't really take the time to look at the procedure for cooking, and just took the ingredients and worked the recipe using the risotto methods I know. The cream addition really made the risotto creamy and luscious. Though the lemon juice added and the acidity in the wine gave it an incomprehensible tartness, the cream and the parmesan cheese (ESPECIALLY the parmesan cheese) cut right through the acidity and encouraged a sweeter, more mellow feeling. I paired it, unwittingly, with a South African Sauvignon Blanc, which actually turned out to be a low-quality wine with low-quality results. But hey, we live; we learn; we never drink South African wine again. For those who enjoy wines with a disgustingly light body(juice-like, actually) and little to no flavors of a normal Sauvignon Blanc (grapefruit, herbs, etc.), go with this wine.
This evening I was discussing the wonders of Olestra with a dear friend of mine. For those not familiar with the brand Olestra, it is an alternative to butter, oil, and other cooking greases that contain high doses of saturated fat. Synthetic though it is, its praises have been sung by great gourmands such as Jeffrey Steingarten and Rachael Ray. Okay, not Rachael Ray - but I'm sure she'd love it if she could pry herself away from her precious EVOO. More on this later. However, I have also hitched my wagon to the Olestra oxen and told them to drive on with all deliberate speed. That being said, my dear friend told me of a story worth relating with regard to the wonder of Olestra.
Perhaps you remember the phenomenon of the Wow! chip that occurred a few years ago. These chips were said to be as flavorful, as satisfying, and as exciting as the regular brand of potato chip. These chips came in all the same "brands" of chips put out by Frito-Lay, including (but not limited to) Doritos, Original Lays, Wavy Lays, and Fritos. However, the start difference between these Wow! chips and the original chips was the cooking liquid used in the MASSIVE deep fryer owned by the production factory. Instead of using corn oil, peanut oil, or partially-hydrogenated soybean oil (my personal favorite), the Wow! chip used liquid Olestra. Now, Olestra contains no saturated fat - the fat that slows down digestion of foods containing fats and coats the arteries, eventually causing arterial blockages and subsequent heart troubles.
At the time that these chips were becoming popular, around the year 2000, a friend of my friend consumed a significant portion of these chips. One side effect of Olestra not listed on the package of Wow! chips is their ability to pass through the digestive system at an ungodly rate. The friend came to school one morning and declared, "So...last night I ate pretty much a whole bag of those new Wow! chips and...well....wow." I really appreciated that story because it not only serves to remind us that good health comes with a price, but also that we should eat foods containing or cooked in Olestra in close proximity to a restroom.
I am beginning to read It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten (the illustrious gourmand, judge on Iron Chef America, and current food critic for Vogue magazine). I finished The Man Who Ate Everything a few months ago, and am already finding this sequel to be far more entertaining. I will end my blog post with this quote from him.

"My goal is not to sudue Nature. My goal is to eat Nature."

May we all gather our stamina in pursuit of so noble a cause.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Lemon Risotto and Sunshine

This month's issue of Saveur contains a fantastic article about the limonetos in the Sorrento region of Italy. Basically, these are huge citrus gardens full of lemon trees, birds, insects - pretty much an entire ecosystem contained in a grove of lemon trees. It ended with a recipe for lemon risotto, a recipe I have been itching to try ever since I saw it. I'll make sure to tell you how it turns out. I can just imagine the creaminess of the arborio starches cut through with the sweet acid of a ripe lemon. Paired with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with the right amount of acidity, this dish could be exactly what the soft summer breezes off Lake Michigan have been whispering all these nights. For added kick, asparagus spears or blanches broccoli florets would add a sweet crunch, and of course, much needed fiber.

On second thought, I don't think asparagus or broccoli have ever been said to lend a "kick" to anything. But I'll bask in being the first one to have granted the compliment to our green veggie compatriots.

Until I actually make the recipe - here it is, courtesy of Saveur, June 2006:
Serves 8
4 tbsp. Butter
1 scallion (white and light green parts only), finely chopped
3 ½ cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
¾ cup heavy cream
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (about 1 tbsp.)
¾ cup finely grated parmigiano-reggiano (about 2 oz.)
Julienned zest of 1 lemon, for garnish

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat on a backburner. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp. of the butter in a heavy-duty medium pot over medium heat. Add scallions and cook until softened and light golden, about 2 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until rice has absorbed most of the wine, about 1 minute.

2. Add 1 cup of the boiling water to rice, using a ladle, and cook, stirring constantly, until water has been absorbed, 2-3 minutes. Repeat this process 5-6 more times, until rice is al dente. (You’ll have water left over.) Add cream and grated lemon zest and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in remaining butter and parmigiano-reggiano, and season to taste with salt. (If risotto seems to thick, add more water to adjust to desired consistency.)3. Spoon risotto onto plates and garnish with julienned lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Source: Saveur

Here's what one blogger has to say about the dish. Her comments will be duly noted.:
"The next dish on the menu this week was the Risotto al Limone from Saveur. I'd been drooling over the picture for weeks, and I was happy with the way it turned out when I made it. Lemony but mild enough not to offend the non-lemon lovers of us, it was a lovely starter. My only concern is that even after adding an additional scoop of water while cooking, the risotto was almost too al dente. I did halve the recipe, adding the water in 1/2 cup increments instead of full cups, so that may have changed things, but I'd still suggest testing the risotto before you move on to the cream part of the recipe."