Because the last six weeks or so have been largely consumed with work, I’ve had little opportunity for either inspiration or writing. The fact that I’ve been absent from my new blog has been weighing on me, so I am here to say hello and give you what I’ve got from the last six weeks — a recap of lessons learned.
* Zuni Roast Chicken — Absolutely does NOT need goat cheese. The last time I made this, I was craving goat cheese, and figured it might be tasty mixed into the bread salad. While it remained edible, the dish was completely changed: all that good chicken flavor vanished, resulting in an average dish, when — made as originally intended — this dish is a stunner. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with perfection. I picked the goat cheese out.
* Aioli — Mixed in a great rush 10 minutes before dinner was to be served, my smooth emulsion curdled and thickened at the table. Ick. Lessons learned: 1) Some things really shouldn’t be rushed, and 2) proportions matter.
* Nut Cheese — Despite this vaguely lewd-sounding name, this is in fact an edible delight: a sort of cheese stand-in for my Paleo clients, utterly delicious and satisfying, but not by any stretch “cheese.” Why various food movements always seek to replace old classics with new bastardizations confuses me. So much lovelier to think of it as a nut pate (in and of itself another bastardization, but there seems more leeway here), and get on with life. Lesson learned: Nuts are not cheese and never will be. Cheese is cheese.
* Jumbo Ice Cubes — When made with crappy tap water, an ice cube tastes like crappy tap water; and because of their large size, this becomes inescapable in what would otherwise be a fabulous gin and tonic, which is now imbued with the mildew of unpurified water. Lesson learned: Purification matters, especially in simple applications.
* Tempura — A delightful treat easily made, particularly when you have Alton Brown guiding your hand. His version calls for rice flour, cake flour, club soda and vodka. Vodka! And the batter should be kept cold. This was a satisfying project, made at the request of one of my client’s kids. Tip: scoop out the excess bits of batter that sink to the bottom of the pot between batches. Lesson learned: Projects have a better chance of satisfying when they actually work out. I thought of this as I removed batch after batch of lacy tempura from the pot. Obvious, yes… but worth bearing in mind when new frontiers beckon.
* Classic French cookery — My most recent culinary read is “One Souffle at a Time,” by Anne Willan. So much aspic! If this is classical training, I feel I may have dodged a bullet. But a little classical training might have prevented my above aioli mishap. Lesson learned: Take what you can use, and leave the rest.
* Soda Stream — Perhaps one of the most marvelous kitchen gadgets ever invented. Sparkling water is especially delightful when it doesn’t cost $3 a bottle and go flat by the next day. Lesson learned: If you think you want one of these, get it NOW. You’ll wonder why you didn’t get it sooner.
* Hasselback Potatoes — Made with mixed results. There are technical issues at stake here. Sliced too thinly, potatoes remain glued into their original shape, and never get a chance to bake. Sliced more thickly, good results are more probable. It’s the rare occasion that something in the world of cooking can actually be TOO thin, but hasselback potatoes are such a case. Slices just under a 1/4″ thick are ideal. Still they took half again as long as the recipe called for to cook through. Lesson learned: There is no substitute for experience.
And on that note, I’ll wrap up. That final lesson learned pretty much says it all.