We are still feeling the last aftershocks of the Cooking the Books episode. Last night I used the excuse of not wasting the few long-lived sage leaves left in the package to cook some premade gnocchi with the same browned butter and sage sauce that went on the malfatti. I also made a shrimp and broccoli stir-fry with some geriatric broccoli from the last CSA delivery of the summer share. Either one of these dishes would have been an acceptable dinner if I was just cooking for myself but having an audience makes me feel pressure to have a “main dish” and a “side dish.” Sometimes I think that instead of photos of a pizza slice wrapped around a bacon cheesburger stuffed with the creme from five oreos, the This Is Why You’re Fat tumblr should replace all its content with just the words “Because You Are In A Relationship.”
Also Amy blogged about being on the show at HER BLOG, which exists. It is hilarious. It’s true that I did make her take off her shoes, and also that I did tell her what my advance was. (She was like “I heard you got a million dollars for your book” and I was like “Uh hello look at this apartment, where I live, do you think that could possibly be true? That was just a rumor that the Internet started so that they could later debunk it like ‘actually she got [way, way less than a million dollars], what a failure,’” and Amy was like “Oh that makes sense.” Clever!)
The next episode of CtB will feature Anna Jane Grossman. Anna Jane is the author of OBSOLETE, which is a funny book with lots of useful information about typewriters, landlines, and other things our children will never believe existed, when we describe these things to them. Then as evidence we’ll hold up this book, OBSOLETE, and they’ll be like “What’s that?” and we’ll be like “It’s called a book” and they’ll be like “Weird.”
SPOILER ALERT: We are going to cook something obsolete, obviously.
I got a semi distressing phone call just as I was passing The Bakery at the corner of Myrtle and Vanderbilt (its name is actually The Bakery, I checked) and after I got off the phone I went in to see if they had their very good hot chocolate. They didn’t because it’s too warm out, but they did have cupcakes. Normally I am not a huge fan of cupcakes (INTERNET SACRILEGE!) — I feel like the ratio of frosting to cake is always off; layer cake is an elegant solution to the problem of getting bites that are all cake/all frosting, and why mess with perfection? But by the time the lady behind the counter had finished describing all the flavors to me I felt obligated, not unpleasantly, to buy one. The rows were arrayed together in the case so that their colors evoked the colors of autumn leaves: chocolate with peanut butter frosting, spice cake with cream cheese frosting, and lemon. I got the spice cake. The cream cheese frosting had tiny autumn-leaf sprinkles. The cake was dry and dense and a little gummy (in a good way) and the frosting was tangy, not too rich or sweet but of course very rich and sweet. The whole thing was small enough that it didn’t leave me feeling sick or sleepy. I still have to deal with my problems but at least I got to eat something that I loved today.
One reason besides ethics that I don’t cook meat or fish main courses very often is because I’m not so great at it. Well, it’s hard to cook meat and fish well at home: our ovens and stoves just don’t get hot enough, fast enough, with enough accuracy, to give us the quality of sear and char on tender sentient-being flesh that we’re accustomed to getting at restaurants. Also, good-quality meat and fish are expensive and not very easy to come by. I dream of joining a pork CSA or living near enough to Paisanos to walk, but til then I will continue to eat a mostly vegetarian diet (supplemented with oil-packed canned tuna, bacon and chicken that I convince myself are produced under less-than-horrible circumstances.)
The one exception to this is that sometimes I cook fish, mostly salmon. Typically my salmon strategy has been to salt and pepper the salmon, get a pan as hot as possible, fill it with butter and oil, sear the salmon pieces on both sides, then serve them. This is not a great strategy at all! Salmon is so fatty anyway that it certainly does not need to be sauteed in more fat. Also, depending on the thickness of the filets, the outside of the fish can get overdone before the inside has a chance to cook.
I just realized that this is sounding like a Cook’s Illustrated recipe headnote, you know, the part where they tell you how terrible the way something’s usually done can turn out to be. “Plain tomato soup can be thin and sharp,” they tell us, or “Beef with Barolo can be the ultimate pot roast … or it can be a waste of a $30 bottle of wine, with stringy meat.” Often in the print magazine the recipe will continue with lots of nonsensical test-kitchen variations: “Then we tried adding two cups of salt and a purple shoelace to the meat before braising. This resulted in a dish our tasters called “disgusting” and “like something a goat would eat.” (Ok, I made that up, but really it’s not so far off). Anyway, it makes sense that my recipe is sounding like Cook’s Illustrated because last night, in an effort not to ruin the expensive salmon I bought on a whim from Dean & Deluca, I turned to Cook’s Illustrated for the definitive basic salmon recipe.
The CI website is very clever in that you have to start a free* (*but you know, obvs not free if you forget to cancel it) trial subscription in order to get at its content. This is definitely a worthwhile thing to do, and while you’re at it you might as well pay $34.95 to have access to the site for a year, because some online content is worth paying for. Unclear which! Someday we’ll figure it out, if we don’t all starve to death first. By the way if you have read this far in my tumblr post please send me a quarter in the mail; just kidding.
So I feel a little dirty revealing CI’s salmon secrets since they are in effect behind a paywall, but here we go anyway: they recommend that you season and oil up your fish while a rimmed baking sheet sits in an oven that’s set to 500 degrees. Then you take the hot sheet out, slap the fish on it skin side down, and put it back in the oven, reducing the temperature to 275 degrees. Then you cook the salmon for “9 to 13” (in my experience maybe more like 15, esp if the fillets are thick) minutes. Result: crispy salmon exterior, buttery but not undercooked interior. CI has you topping the salmon with any of various relishes but I did my traditional thing of combining salted cucumber, dill, a chopped shallot, the juice of half a lemon and a small container of Total 2% greek yogurt.
Voila! A salmon that did not die entirely in vain.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to go on a Healthy Eating Plan and I wasn’t going to tell you about it because it is embarrassing and sends the wrong message to the youth, et cetera. Also because reading about healthy eating is super, super boring — I will never understand why Us Weekly type magazines persist on telling us about the “stars’” Healthy Eating Plans. Like, okay, steamed vegetables and chicken and fish and egg white wraps and bran cereal, a “snack” that is one ounce of lowfat cheese or five cashews, fine, we get it. Diets/eating disorders are many things but mostly they are boring. Well, sometimes eating disorders are fascinating in their Beecroftian obsessive particulars, like, I once lived with a girl whose nightly meal invariably consisted of half a head of iceberg lettuce, chopped and topped with half a chopped white onion, half a pint of sliced button mushrooms, red pepper flakes, salt and vinegar and washed down with a Diet Dr. Pepper. The only other thing I ever saw her eat were slices of vegan fake turkey. Wow, I take it back, eating disorders are fascinating! But diets —sorry, Healthy Eating Plans — are boring.
The rules of the H.E.P. initially were: no bread, no booze, no sweets (during the week), and no fried things for breakfast (instead: bran cereal). This quickly devolved to: no bread, no sweets, no fried things for breakfast. Then to: only a little bread. Then to: only one sweet per day. By the end of the second week the H.E.P., which included Halloween night (which entailed one fun sized candy bar of every denomination and a Vietnamese sandwich and several hundred beers), the Plan was really more just an idea, an ideal, a vibe. Nevertheless I still managed to become a tiny bit slimmer, possibly only in my mind. This was undoubtedly due to how many calories I burned the three times I managed to go to the pool (I hadn’t been in so long that during my absence the men started wearing an entirely different style of suit, sort of a speedo/trunk hybrid like a bike short!). Or the bran cereal, which really does leave you un-hungry for hours and hours after you eat it, probably because it is so gross that it makes you lose faith in food.
Anyway yesterday was the day I abandoned the Plan entirely once and for all. I made blueberry pancakes and then, having diagnosed myself with a sinus infection, took some leftover antibiotics. These made me feel queasy so I ate a brioche to settle my stomach. Then I had a late lunch of dim sum at Chinatown Brasserie, which is like a Chinatown theme restaurant confusingly located a few blocks from actual Chinatown. One of the people I was eating with described it as “like an upscale P.F. Chang’s.” I had various kinds of dumplings and lettuce wraps. Then I went home and made the yuppie pork chops again, this time buying cheap chops (Paisano’s closes at 4:30 on Sundays!) and quick-brining them (they were still tough). I also made applesauce and sauteed some carrots in the pork chop glaze, which was pretty successful, maybe a little too candied. I also drank some red wine and ate a square of baking chocolate and fell asleep with chocolate smeared around my mouth.
I forgot to mention that on the way out of the Park Slope Food Coop I managed to snag a copy of that institution’s house organ, the Linewaiter’s Gazette. Why is there no website or digest magazine that exists solely to chronicle the best of the writing in various Food Coop or CSA newsletter type periodicals? Called, like, The Onion. But seriously, you cannot parody that which parodies itself so acutely. This is from an article that, to be fair, I think was written by someone with her tongue slightly in her cheek (maybe?) titled “Halloween at the Coop: Trick or Tragedy?”
“Linewaiters in front of Brandt and Hansen were in agreement. Most had no plans to celebrate. An objection to the ‘crass commercialism’ of the day was one reason, along with wasteful costumes, environmentally suspect decorations, and an overabundance of candy. ‘Do American kids really need more sugar?’ asked one shopper who had no plans to participate.”
The letters to the editor are also priceless. They include a reminder that boycotting Israeli products is technically illegal, a protest against the use of glue traps, and a poem about global warming by erstwhile Gawker commenter Leon Freilich!