My soufflés fell. They fell, I’m fairly certain, because I insisted on peeking at them repeatedly through the cracked oven door to make sure they were puffing up nicely. And they were, at one point. But when I pulled them all golden brown and fragrant from the hot oven, they’d fallen flatter than a pancake, concave even. “Shit, now what am I gonna do,” I thought, not out of any real concern for dinner but because I needed pretty pictures for my blog.
I like taking pictures of the food I make. It’s a meditative thing for me, being in the kitchen and behind the camera, but sometimes it gets away from me. I had a whole story mapped out around this grits soufflé, a story about homesickness—- deep, achey, ever-present, adrift-at-sea homesickness. Grits help with that sort of thing, because food—- the kind of food we care about—- is never really about just food. So I thought I’d make grits, and then I thought, “good lord, who wants to look at a picture of grits?” Within a matter of hours I’d managed to transform my antidote to homesickness into a source of anxiety over blog-worthy photographs. And just as I was beginning to fret about how I’d find the time to remake the soufflés and the light to re-photograph them by my self-imposed weekend deadline, I stumbled upon Brian Ferry’s beautiful post about honesty and the creative process. Before I was even halfway through, I’d decided not to revisit the soufflés.
I spend an awful lot of time thinking about photography, and the photographs that most interest me are those that capture things as they are—- un-staged, un-styled, of-the-moment sorts of photos. That’s not exactly the honesty that Brian was talking about, but it’s what I was reminded of as I read his post.
It’s true, I could make the soufflés again, but I’d only be doing it because I needed a photo of them, and then the things I do for pleasure—- cooking, photographing, writing—- would become a chore. Instead, I give you the soufflés as they were, along with the recipe, which I’ve successfully made for occasions both special and ordinary and which I can assure you do puff up light and airy, creamy and pleasantly gritty, with a whisper of piney rosemary and the sweet, mellow nip of roasted garlic.
recipe adapted, ever-so-slightly, from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, which I love to pieces
I’m rather fond of putting eggs on top of things. For a long time I merely slid them onto tried-and-true platforms like toast or hash browns, but these days I also like to scramble them into fried rice, crack them onto pizza dough, or fry them up with strips of stale tortillas and toss the whole mess with salsa and sliced avocado. I’m not alone in this enthusiasm; Bon Appétit recently predicted that anything with an egg on top would be 2009’s dish of the year.
Having spent the better part of my morning carefully poaching, breading, and then deep-frying an egg, I’d like to nominate this particular preparation for 2009’s egg of the year. Or something like that. Because a deep-fried poached egg rocks. I mean, you probably don’t want to have one every morning unless you’re on some sort of Homer Simpsonesque weight-gain regimen, but the combination of crispy crust, tender white and soft, runny yolk is fan-freakin’-tastic.
We like pizza at our house. We especially like Chicago-style pizza, what with one of us being from Chicagoland and all. In fact, the last time we visited the Windy City, we indulged in a late-night snack at Pizano’s despite relatively sated appetites. “Let’s go get a pizza,” I’d suggested when we found our time unexpectedly unspoken for. Chris hesitated. Hesitated! “I’m not really hungry,” he offered. “Neither am I,” I agreed, “but how often do we get to eat Chicago pizza?” So out we went. That’s how much we like pizza.
You know who else likes pizza? Our new president, a Chicagoan himself. So it made sense to commemorate his inauguration with homemade Chicago-style deep dish. Well, that an abundance of crisp, local champagne — an otherwise odd pairing that perfectly encapsulated the celebratory and egalitarian spirit of the day.
But back to the pizza: I’ve always assumed the deep dishes of gooey cheese and thick, crisp crust that arrive bubbling at your table were a complicated enterprise impossible to re-create at home. Not so; you can make deep dish pizza in your own kitchen.
Yes you can.
I’ve never been especially good about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m opposed to self-improvement, it’s that I have trouble equating newness with the barren bleakness of January. I tend to make my resolutions at the beginning of the school year, when the world seems as new as a freshly sharpened pencil or a class roster filled with unfamiliar names. The arbitrary New Year in January, then, is merely an excuse to drink champagne.
However, in the weeks preceding the advent of this particular new year, I’d given a lot of thought to leafy greens. I frequently resolve to eat more greens, often going so far as to purchase lovely, crisp bunches of them and then watch them wither away in my refrigerator for lack of inspiration. But then I met Alice Waters. Well, I didn’t so much meet her as I read a biography of her, which prompted me to buy a few of her cookbooks and experiment with a bunch of her recipes, as a result of which I really started to get this whole leafy greens thing.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing Chris has been thinking — often aloud — for the past few weeks: squash again? And, well, yes. Because even the teensiest of winter squashes tend to weigh nearly a pound, which is rather a lot for two people, and one can only fit so much squash purée in one’s freezer. Extra squash is inevitable, and the unused portion will languish in the depths of your fridge, feeling sorry for itself and gazing forlornly at you each time you reach in for some fresh new food until eventually you think to yourself, “Shit, I should really use up that squash.”
Alice Waters is one of my culinary heroes, but I often read her recipes and think, “There’s no way that could be any good — it’s too simple.” Then I make them anyway because I am always always wrong.
This one starts with flowers and ends with butter, and if the novelty of eating flowers doesn’t win you right over, the zippy nasturtium butter certainly should. It’s the foundation of the dish and a prime example of the simplicity that is Alice. You combine a few teaspoons of herbs, some shallots, and a handful of nasturtium blossoms with a few tablespoons of butter; let it sit for an hour or so; and that, surprisingly, is all the flavor you need. The pepperiness of the nasturtiums and the freshness of the herbs seep into the butter, creating a delightfully unexpected complexity.
I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who can wander through the grocery or farmers market and spontaneously plan a meal based on what looks good. But I’m not. I’m more the kind of person who, if she doesn’t have a carefully crafted list in hand, will come home with a random assortment of lovely-looking stuff, none of which has any business being on the same plate.
So while ordinarily I try to have at least a general idea of what I might like to make before coming into close contact with vegetables, it doesn’t always work out that way. Like on my last trip to the farmers market, for example.
I was accompanied by my mom, who doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking or even eating, but who really likes buying things. She’s also the kind of person who keeps four bottles of ketchup on hand. Just in case.
So it should really come as no surprise to anyone that our unsupervised visit to the farmers market yielded thirteen ears of corn, a pound of eggplant, two pints of cherry tomatoes, a pound of zucchini, two pounds of squash, five large onions, several peppers, and two pounds of potatoes. Oh, and no plan.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that nearly every stand at your local farmers market is teeming with perfectly formed, bright green little zucchini — any and all of which could be yours for a mere $1 a pound. How much do you buy?
Right. A lot more than what’s pictured above. Because it seems silly to hand your friendly neighborhood farmer just one measly dollar and be on your way. I mean, this is food we’re talking about.
My point is that we’ve been eating a lot of zucchini lately. But when Chris wandered into the kitchen yesterday and groaned, “You put zucchini in cookies?” (I did. I don’t recommend it.), I thought it might be time for a frozen pizza.
Not for me, of course. I could eat zucchini every day from now until the blizzards come. Plus I had a pint of four-day-old cherry tomatoes languishing on the counter and quite a bit of shredded zucchini left over from the aforementioned cookie debacle.
Asparagus appeared in the co-op’s local produce section a few weeks ago, like magic. As if I wasn’t already high enough on spring. And because there’s a very short window before it’s back to dried out ol’ Peruvian asparagus, I’ve been buying several pounds of it at a time. Much as I’d like to, I’m not capable of eating several pounds of asparagus a week, and Chris wouldn’t touch asparagus even if it was deep fried and enveloped in multiple layers of bacon.
He is, however, a huge fan of pesto, and after stumbling upon this recipe at epicurious, it occurred to me that pesto made with asparagus might not look so different from pesto made with basil. Plus, you can do a hell of a lot with pesto, including freezing it, and the idea of a dollop of asparagus on baked fish in the dead of winter was rather appealing.
So I tossed a pound of asparagus and a few cloves of garlic into a baking pan with a little olive oil and a little salt, roasted it for about ten minutes, then dumped it all into the food processor with a handful of toasted pine nuts, some grated parmesan, and more olive oil. And voila, asparagus pesto.