Monday, June 13, 2011

Recently Learned Chez Pollard

1. Gougeres out of a box can be pretty good:

The mix came from Williams Sonoma and yes, it did cost $14, which is a lot for cheese puffs, but I'm not very good with pastry and these were easy and also delicious. So I would totally buy it again.

2. I need to remember that I bought myself some fennel pollen:

A few weeks ago, I went on an Amazon tear, and one of my purchases was a small tin of fennel pollen. Since it's arrival, I've used it exactly once - I sprinkled it on goat cheese for a salad - and it was good, but not earth-shattering. I get the impression it's a bigger deal when paired with I need to remember to pair it with meat. Also learned: I'm a sucker for trendy ingredients.

3. Ceriello makes a perfectly serviceable cold octopus salad:

While it's not as incredible as the grilled octopus appetizer at The Black Olive (my gold standard), it's got tons of flavor...and it's available 2 miles from my house.

4. Cooper makes a nice sun tea:

He's been adding basil and mint (WOW do we have a lot of mint) and it's delicious. Also learned: Mary really, really, really likes sun tea. She's had more of it than I have.

5. Cooper also makes some nice ribs:

Ribs are pretty ugly - they definitely don't photograph well. But they do taste good.

6. Jamie Oliver knows what he's talking about:

Over the weekend, I reread Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef, which was the very first cookbook I bought when I decided to learn to cook, way back in the spring of 2002. I'm not sure I made much from the book back in those days, but upon a reread, I realized that I've internalized a lot of Oliver's approach (fresh, seasonal, etc. etc.). On Saturday, I made his salsa verde, which is a chimichurri-esque combination of mint, basil, parsley, anchovies, mustard, bread and butter pickles, capers, red wine vinegar and olive oil. He uses it for a variety of foods - I used it to make a warm potato salad to serve with corn and crab cakes. Perfect for this time of year and perfect with the crab.

Then, on Sunday, I took his advice again and topped boiled asparagus with a compound butter made with anchovies, lemon, and red and black pepper. It was surprisingly subtle and a nice alternative to lemon and olive oil or hollandaise.

7. I like Gwyneth Paltrow again:

Back in the late '90s, when Gwyneth was winning Oscars and loving Shakespeare, I was loving her. Sometime after that, though, the love faded. I don't know if it was the macrobiotic diet or the $300 yoga pants in GOOP or what, but something about her turned me off. I know I'm not alone in this.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened the June issue of Bon Appetit, which has Gwyneth's smiling face on the cover. The magazine got a lot of pushback on that cover - and I get it: it's a food magazine, not US Weekly. I also get, though, that a cover featuring a controversial movie star, who also happens to have some genuine food credentials, will a) generate a lot of buzz for a new editor and a magazine that's clearly trying to update its image and b) sell a hell of a lot of that magazine. It's controversial, but I think it was a good call.

Anyway, the magazine arrived while I was in NYC for the weekend with Alicia, visiting her friend Stacy (more on that one day). When I got home, Cooper had already read the whole thing. His response to it was simple: "I like Gwyneth again." I reserved judgment but you know what? After reading it for myself, I liked her again, too. Especially after I made her roasted tomato and anchovy oreganata pasta (above). I made one small adjustment - I pureed the sauce because Cooper doesn't really like whole tomatoes - but otherwise, I followed the very simple recipe exactly. And it was great. Easy, tasty, cheap.

Then I bought her book. And it is just as good as the few articles in the magazine (I've already made the cacio e pepe and it was also super simple).  Plus, as the book is called My Father's Daughter, it focuses on stories about the food memories Gwyneth shared with her late father, Bruce Paltrow, who died from cancer in 2002. There are tons of pictures scattered throughout the book and stories that are both heartwarming and sad. The end result is that Gwyneth comes across as a real person - and someone who is funny and genuinely likable. As in, I would want to be her friend. Even if she was wearing a $150 tank top.

So there it is, all the things I've learned recently, from gougeres to Gwyneth.

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