Now that my television and I are happily reunited, I blitzed through a "Top Chef" marathon and am completely caught up to the current episode. Some great talent this season, and of course I'm particularly proud of Jennifer from 10 Arts here in Philly, who is tearing. it. up. Go Jen!
The show is set in Vegas this season, and they're doing a lot with that theme, throwing around poker chips and dice and showgirls, and yes, it's cheesy, but it's also fun. And it led to a very interesting Quickfire, where the chefs rolled dice to determine the number of ingredients they'd be using in their dish. (Oil, salt, and pepper were free.)
Now, initially I thought they'd all want to roll high numbers, because it seemed like they were rolling for a maximum number. But no. When the chefs started rolling nines and tens and complaining about it, the real challenge became clear: they were rolling for an exact number. No more, no less.
No one rolled a two, but it got me thinking: how few ingredients is too few? Could I make something with two ingredients, plus salt and pepper? Of course I could. Two is enough, as long as one of them is bacon.
This is how the McHenrys do green beans. Yes, I see the whole appeal of the tender-crisp cooking style for vegetables, where you let the vegetable express itself. I do that sometimes. Sometimes? I quash the vegetable's freedom of expression with the smoky richness of bacon and cook the beans themselves to army green.
And it is SO good.
Cut three or four slices of bacon in small pieces and brown in the bottom of a heavy pot. Snap the green beans (about two pounds will do) into one-inch lengths and rinse. The water that clings to the beans should be enough, but have a little extra on hand just in case. When the bacon is brown and the fat is rendered out, toss the beans in, stir it up, slap the lid on, and cook for about an hour over very low heat, stirring occasionally. If it gets too dry add that extra water, but really, it's pretty Zen.
I've tried fancying this up with pancetta instead of bacon, or adding herbs like thyme. Don't do that. That's not what these beans are about.
I've prattled before about the awesomeness of Philadelphia's markets, how they offer something for everyone, and the one I probably love the most is the Italian Market. Sure, it's hard to know what's on offer any particular day of any particular week. Sure, there's a chance the produce might grow mold between the time you buy it and the time you get home. Sure, they don't have everything you want and it's not convenient to get there on weekdays and it can be crazy overwhelming on your average Saturday afternoon with the crowds and the strollers and the bottlenecking on the tight sidewalks.
1. I am a bargain hunter first and foremost, and if you give me the chance to buy multiple pounds of anything for a dollar, chances are? I will.
2. Random stuff. Cool stuff. Stuff I've never seen in stores before. Like the time I bought fresh olives. Okay, I found out that they're not edible raw and I didn't get around to purchasing lye (lye!) to cure them, but it was pretty neat to see them just sitting there among the fennel and celery and five-for-a-dollar lemons.
You know what else I've never seen before? Scuppernongs.
Not immediately obvious from this shot, I know, but scuppernongs are a type of grape. To be specific, a type of Muscadel grape. Also, they are massive. (For grapes, I mean.)
They have thick, bitter skins, and several large seeds.
How do they taste? Actually, kind of gross. The skin isn't just bitter, it has a faint chemical taste, like oil. Motor oil. Probably better just to eat the flesh itself. Might be good in something cooked, like jam.
So, okay, I'm not going to go out and stock up on scuppernongs. (Neither are you, probably, after reading my not-exactly-laudatory description of their flavor.)
But for a buck fifty, it's not a bad way to learn.
That's right, today's post is quite a milestone: the one hundredth post here on the SIMMER blog! Fantabulous!
To celebrate, I've done an itty bitty redesign... okay, it's just a new profile picture. There was going to be a new font (I have a hankering for Verdana) but after the preview I went back to Trebuchet. That's right, the biggest change is that I ALMOST changed the font. That is just the kind of party animal I am. w00t and such.
Lots of exciting posts coming up, including trip reports on wineries throughout the Napa and Sonoma valleys, as well as more frequent book news, some exploration of unusual ingredients (ever heard of a scuppernong?) and of course, lots of recipes and photos and foodcentric prattle.
In the meantime, getting to the one-hundredth post is something to celebrate. I, for one, can't help but smile.
Yes, that's right, this post is tagged with the category Book News! Happy to report the latest rewrite of SIMMER turned out just beautifully, and I am very, very proud of it. Funny thing, that every draft I think it just can't get any better... and then, every draft, it does. So although the title is back to SIMMER instead of A WATCHED POT, the book is about to be a watched pot again... and I'll report back to you the second it boils.
The title of this post, Use It Like Buttermilk, is from the most recent SIMMER draft. It's a variation on "When life hands you lemons," that old chestnut. "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade", right? (Or, as a signature line I recently saw put it, "When life hands you lemons, start an international lemonade conglomerate." Heh.)
Anyway, as the narrator Ginny reflects on how to make the best of an upsetting situation, she thinks:
Instead of giving in to the anger I try to analyze it. Take it as a given. If the milk goes sour, you use it like buttermilk. Pancakes, biscuits, things that need its acid.
Buttermilk? Totally useful. It's not milk, but it's something you can use to your advantage, if you know how. Baking soda needs something acid to activate it, making batter or dough rise. Apparently it's also really good for marinating chicken before frying, and let's not forget Buttermilk Ranch dressing, a great way to balance creaminess with tang on your salad.
I was reminded of Use It Like Buttermilk when I ran across a mention of the fascinating Jaws Wired Shut blog over on Serious Eats.
What happens when an avid cook and eater with a fractured jaw has to take all her meals through a straw for six weeks? Read it and see.