Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Into The Frying Pantheon

My friend Sara is a food goddess. I've seen her work. I remember she was right here in Dave's kitchen when he expressed his culinary philosophy ("I have no fear of butter"). They bonded instantly.

Sara can go into a market, a roadside stand, or, probably, a clean dumpster, size up the possibilities in a nanosecond, do an efficient flavor triage with her big brain, nab this off the shelf and pluck that out of the ground, bang everything into a series of pots, and invent something swoony every day of the week. Recipes do not alarm her. She’d think nothing of pestling a trilobite in a homemade mortar, whimpering it in wine, reducing, draining, and severely beating it into a juiced raisin vinaigrette, just to make a thimbleful of the first of twenty ingredients in a dish. She could make a salad out of lawn clippings and you'd beg for seconds. Look. If Sara had been in the Donner Party, everyone would've looked forward to the funerals. All right?

And, this being the age of the internet, she's also inclined to post photos of what she's eating, just some perfect thing she dashed together out of scavenged items. Lentil entrails. Eau de dough. Whiskey barrel scrapings. She's not lazy.

So if she posts a picture of something yummy that doesn't look quite out of my league, I'm tempted to try it. This happened recently with her Courgette Fritters. Oh! I had questions. One, what's the recipe? And, B, what's a courgette?

Fortunately, the internet came through for me in a way my six years of French classes did not. She was frying zucchinis. Oh boy, I thought. Zucchinis, I can come by. Zucchinis will waltz right into your house if you don't lock up. Sara was particularly fond of the "favoured Nigel Slater version." I should've been forewarned by the bonus "u" but I went ahead and looked it up in all confidence, even though I've never Nigel Slated in my life.

Well, shit.

Mr. Slater has an entire barking pack of courgette fritter recipes. He has regular ones, and auxiliary ones, and traveling ones, and ones for the Queen, and spares. I checked again: Sara had specified his buttermilk courgette recipe. All righty then!

Trouble. Right away trouble. Sure, zucchinis are easy to come by, but this recipe also called for milliliters and grams, and they are in short supply around these parts. The oil needed to be heated to a temperature that doesn't exist in this country. Also, the courgettes were to be sliced into rounds no bigger than a pound coin.

I search my memory, which is breezy territory. I lived in London for nine months, almost fifty years ago. I do remember that when I came home, I thought our coins looked like play money. So the pound coin was substantial, for currency, if not squashes. I went ahead and decided my zucchini fritters should be about a quarter-inch thick, which dimension I, as a quilter, am very intimate with, and also that it doesn't matter because I'm not a dab hand with a knife anyway and they'd just have to come out how they come out. Whatever points I lose by being short of grams would be made up for by my tossing off "dab hand" like that.

Nigel Slater might be a big deal with a gang of recipes watching his back but I doubt he has a single quarter inch in his kitchen. Or even his kitcheun.

21 comments:

  1. Years ago, I bought a ton of Cooks Illustrated magazines from a yard sale. I had always been a good cook, but reading them and applying what I'd learned took my cooking to a new level. The reason these magazines did that where regular cookbooks could not is that I am a Questioner. If I have to put in an ingredient now but not then, I want to know why. These magazines went into detail about the "why."

    Since I've learned from these magazines, I find that I can apply and adapt what I've learned to recipes in other cookbooks. (Oh, that shouldn't be all sautéed together! The meat first to form a fond, then the aromatics, then the vegetables.) But I've also found that Cooks Illustrated can sometimes be a little too anal about insignificant details that add work but don't add any perceptible (at least to me) taste. Learning what is important and what can be ignored comes with time and the willingness to experiment.

    Cooking is very forgiving as far as amounts are concerned. I always put in twice the amount of garlic they call for, as we love garlic; add salt where they call for none, as I find that a little salt makes things taste more like themselves; and I never leave out the ribs and seeds from the hot peppers, because if you can't stand the heat, don't use the bloody peppers in the first place!

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  2. I'm a little bit of a questioner. In that when the recipe calls for some weird detail, I say "WHY?" and then ignore it and go on. The only thing I used to think was weird that I finally learned to do was spoon flour into a cup instead of shoveling it out of the tub with the cup. I still don't "sift dry ingredients."

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    1. Sifted flour measures completely differently than unsifted flour. It's one of those eye-rolling tasks that I do when they call for it. Otherwise you won't have the right proportion of wet and dry ingredients. Cooking is forgiving. Baking is not.

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  3. I invent a lot of recipes, based on what is available and flavour combinations I/we like. Cooking is indeed very forgiving. Minimanderly is right about baking though. A harsh taskmaster.

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    1. Until recently, baking was all I did. Dave hated baking. He kept thinking he could throw things together like flour and butter and sugar and get a cookie out of it. Same way he cooks. We called that experiment "Sugar pucks."

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  4. My hat is off to anyone who cooks! I have not been allowed in the kitchen (for cooking) since I made and served "Romertoph Lesbian Chicken With Raisins" to James Andrews back in 1979. Heck, back when Joan Mayfield and I lived together in Richmond, VA in the mid-1970s, that was one of our favorite easy dishes. Since I have made only coffee and microwave popcorn for the past 40 years, I'm completely intimidated. And, in awe of anyone who has to balls to pick up a spatula in any kitchen.

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    1. That sounds awful, Ed. A lot of those Lesbian dishes you have to make sure you get one well-marbled. The raisins don't belong at all.

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  5. I'm well acquainted with zucchinis, I grew some once and had enough to feed an army, also familiar with millilitres and grams, but don't have a clue about the size of a pound coin. I'd probably slice the zucchinis a half centimetre thick, which is a millimetre thinner than a quarter inch. but that's if I could be bothered with the making of fritters, usually I just grate the zucchinis and toss them into spaghetti sauce.

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    1. My brain hasn't unpretzeled from "a millimeter thinner than a quarter inch."

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  6. I can cook basic stuff.Once you know the base line, all the other things just build on it. A musician friend told me it's like improvising when you play a new tune with other musicians. (I just take his word on that) But I shall have to pester Elephant's Child with this one.Well, she's native-born, but I'm an incomer to these shores. Thought I pretty much had a handle on the local lingo after 30 years, but now I'm seeing things in my supermarket that are totally new to me. I mean, when in living , dickering hell did zucchini and cauliflower become rice? But there it is, in a fancy packet with a label that says it is.Rice. Nope.

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  7. Lindy just made a tzimmis cake that reminded me a lot of your phrase "thimbleful of the first of twenty ingredients in a dish". This was a recipe with a LOT of steps. And it didn't even have chocolate in it! High praise for her effort (and for the taste) was expressed but only reticently believed.

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    1. I can judge the likelihood of me trying a recipe by the amount of spin I have to give the scroll bar.

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  8. Every once in a while, hubby and I get over-confident and drag out our Dean Fearing cookbook and put together one of his recipes, which usually have about 30 ingredients. It takes forever, but it's worth it. Just don't start in with the white sangria when you begin or you'll be doing a face plant into the chopped mint before it's all over.

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    1. You should always shave the parmesan first thing so you have something good to face plant into.

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    2. And don't forget to shave twice as much parmesan as you think you'll need because you know you'll be snacking on it as you assemble and cook everything else.

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    3. Parmesan, garlic, and limes all get doubled around here.

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    Replies
    1. Ordinarily I'd delete this comment but I enjoyed "kissing on the bit" so much that it stays.

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