I get so annoyed, sometimes, watching America’s Test Kitchen. As I’ve mentioned before, my Saturday ritual is to watch all of the PBS cooking shows and America’s Test Kitchen is the one that took me the longest to warm up to. Whereas Lidia’s Italy lets you peer over the shoulder of a real Italian grandmother cooking for her family with a pinch of this and a pinch of that, cooking from the heart and not the brain, America’s Test Kitchen is as antiseptic as a science lab. In fact, the set feels like a science lab and that’s intentional. The whole concept of the show is that everything is tested scientifically. “We did it five hundred times and after creating flow charts and factoring thousands of equations, we determined this is the best way to make a corn muffin.” It’s so dry and sexless.
And yet, there are so many reason to watch. I do love Bridgett and Julia, I do love Adam and the enthusiasm he musters for measuring cups. And then there’s Elle Simone, my favorite of the many chefs who pop up now and again. Elle seems to be just as wary of the show she’s on as I am of watching it. Yet she has such a gleam in her eye when she’s sharing one of her techniques that it’s hard not to want to make exactly what she’s making after she makes it. Which is why I knew I had to make her fingerling potatoes after seeing her make them on Saturday.
Every family has its own way with potatoes. Growing up, my mom would buy frozen potato latkes, heat them up in the toaster, and serve them with Mott’s apple sauce (you can hear all about it on my mom’s episode of Lunch Therapy). Most families, I’d venture, are mashed potato families. Some do it from a box, others from scratch.
Here at Chez Amateur Gourmet, we’re a roasted potato family. Specficially: pee-wee potatoes roasted with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sometimes with spices thrown in (smoked paprika, cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds).
Sometimes people ask me if I barbecue and I say “no” and when they ask “why not?” I say: “Because I don’t really like my backyard.” And it’s true: we share one with our neighbors in our fourplex, and they’re all very nice, but it’s not very private and it also kind of looks out on to a gas station. So the idea of being back there for a long time with a pair of tongs and a brewski doesn’t really excited me much, even in summertime.
But that didn’t stop me last night from “grilling up” some steak. (“Grilling up” in quotes because, ya know, I wasn’t really grilling.) This dinner really was a triumph, if I do say so myself; I was welcoming Craig back from the Palm Springs Shorts Festival, where he spoke on a few panels. He was already glad to come home (Palm Springs is 105 degrees right now), but with this dinner he was even gladder. Let me tell you how I made it.
The New York Times is having a tough moment and though some are basking in the scandal, I’d rather take the Ira Glass route and turn the other way. Well not so far that I stop actually reading the Times; it’s still the paper of record, as far as I’m concerned. And though I’ve griped about the Magazine food section growing a bit stale (can’t we get a few other writers into the mix?), I still read it regularly, along with the Dining section where many of the recipes–particularly those by Melissa Clark–earn a bookmark in my browser. Last week, though, two recipes earned a bookmark in my brain; Julia Moskin’s steak recipe–which involves cooking a high-quality steak in a cast iron skillet with no fat, just salt–and Sam Sifton’s smashed potatoes, both of which I made on Sunday night for Craig who’d just arrived back from screening The Skeleton Twins at the Seattle Film Festival.
A few months ago, when I first conceived of Sauce Week, I set out to make a dinner for myself that promised to be so outrageously decadent, I’d have to close my blinds before eating the first forkful. The premise was pretty basic–steak and potatoes–with one key difference. I was going to drench the whole thing in that most indulgent of French sauces, a sauce that contains more butter than most people eat in a month, yet a sauce so rich and sultry it’s pretty much the height of sophistication and elegance: I’m talking, of course, about Sauce Béarnaise.
I’m so mad at myself. I figured out how to make homemade potato chips in such an easy, head-smackingly simple way, I’m going to make them all the time and gain a million pounds. It all started when I thought about the shallow-frying technique I used to make pita chips and tortilla chips; why wouldn’t that work for potato chips? Turns out it does, better than expected. If I wanted to, I could have a plateful of homemade chips in front of you in 15 minutes. Warning: this is a dangerous thing to know how to do. You’ll never stop wanting to do it.
Now we all know the concept of the student beating the master and I don’t want to imply that my friend Diana was ever my student or that I was ever her master (though I was her roommate, which is kind of the same thing with me); what I’d like to imply, however, is that Diana–who was a timid cook when I lived with her–is now giving me a run for my money. I remember her not wanting to make a salad in front of me, back then, because she thought I’d be judgmental. Since then, and since moving in with her husband, she’s had a chance to hone her chops and by all accounts her chops are very good. Case in point: check out her potatoes.
I made a promise here on this blog and the promise went something like this: “I won’t blog more than three recipes from any particular cookbook because, after a certain point, people should just buy it.” Which is why I stopped blogging about one of my favorite new cookbook purchases (though not a new cookbook) because, pretty quickly, I posted three recipes from it. Now I have a 4th recipe which isn’t so much a recipe as it is a technique. So I’ll break my own rule but I sort of feel ok about it because (a) I won’t tell you what book it’s from; and (b) this technique is so straight-forward and simple, it may as well just be something your neighbor told you how to do rather than something from the pages of Marion Cunningham’sBreakfast Book. Oops.