If photos and posts throughout the food blogosphere are to be taken at face value, every single household in the Western hemisphere is chowing down on porn-perfect Fluffy Ricotta Pancakes (made of course with leftover homemade lemon curd you had languishing in the fridge #duh #winning), Meyer Lemon Pizza with Goat Cheese and Bacon and Quadruple Chocolate Pistachio Cupcakes on the regular.
That's lovely for you. Can I come over? I'll even bring bourbon, 'cause I know even I won't screw that up.
I'm okay with that. My husband and I get home from work so late, we're both clawing the walls from hunger, and he likes his food screaming hot. Assembling a glamour plate and lighting it for maximum "ooooh!" allows precious seconds and degrees to dwindle. I'll take my tongue's delight over my eyes' any day - or at least late on a weeknight.
Weekends are a different animal. During the work week, my husband and I rotate through a few beloved, foolproof dishes, in addition to the inevitable taco, Chinese and Italian takeout. I'll spatchcock a chicken and roast it slathered with a paste of olive oil, salt, garlic, herbs, and half a lemon, rind and all, grill whatever looks good (and sustainably caught) from the fishmonger, and cycle through vast meadows and hoop houses of salads. He'll pan roast a couple of pork chops or saute some vegetable to toss atop pasta. Quick, cinchy, flavorful, gets us fed - but nothing to blog about, really.
Come Saturday, I've got time to get in trouble. Out tumble the dozens upon dozens of cookbooks, the pressure canner, the boning knife, the pig parts, the molds, the mandoline. The highs are spectacular - sumptuous pork rillettes, potted tongue, smoked cherries that rendered a loquacious chef pal wordless. The lows have been comical - a gristly calf's foot jelly from a recipe by Zero Mostel, an accidental substitution of cider vinegar for cider (two cups did kinda seem like a lot) in a root vegetable roast, and we probably oughtn't speak of the cola and walnut salad (for legal reasons).
The former make for rapturous bloggery, the latter for hilarity. So how about the stuff that's just fine, even after intensive preparation? It's kinda tasty, but not mind-blowing. It's a tad overdone. The mussels were gritty. The bread sorta rose, but was hardly cause for celebration. Not every meal is zOMG! or an #epicfail, and that's okay. As blogger and CNN colleague Rebecca Orchant puts it, "This is how we learn."
In a recent post, she laid bare the self recrimination she felt upon having made shoe leather of a sumptuous Mangalitsa pork chop. She'd fetishistically sourced every component of the meal, and it wasn't grand, but she didn't burn the house down and no one went hungry. It'll be better next time because of that - lesson learned because she'll let it be.
My grandmother, on the other hand, wouldn't accept failure. Not that everything had to be Betty Crocker picture perfect - rather that she simply wouldn't accept criticism. Her Italian immigrant parents has both died of influenza, and a German housekeeper taught her kitchen stolidity. She had a deal with my grandfather - also first-generation Italian, and ashamed of it. She'd cook foods she knew he liked and he was never to criticize what she served him - especially in front of the children. There's that old expression, "The proof is in the pudding." As I recall, my mother's pudding was from a box and had a nasty skin on top.
I take my lumps when they're coming to me - especially in something I've cooked and served to someone. Perhaps it's learned masochism from the aformentioned arts education, but I almost compulsively seek critique on my food. It's nothing I'd ever inflict if someone else is kind enough to cook for me, but when I've manned the burners, it's all, "It really could use just one of the star anise, right?" "Do you think I should have let that rest for five more minutes?" "Too much salt, right? RIGHT?!?" I am still able to find a great measure of enjoyment, and part of that comes from knowing how much better it'll taste the next time.
Homemade Bucatini with Tasso Carbonara
That's the unlovely mess pictured above. It tastes better than it looks, I promise, but I managed to overcook the pasta because I hadn't made hollow noodles before, and I skimped on the yolk and cream content of the sauce, because I'd like to live to see my 40th birthday. Still - it was pretty good. Tell me how to make it even better.
Here's where I know I screwed up - I let the noodles get too long and mounded them on top of each other as I extruded them along the surface of a dinner plate I rotated beneath them. Next time I'll cut them shorter and not let them sit, so they don't have time to deflate.
I'll also pull them out of the salted, boiling water before the eight minute mark - maybe around six. And heck yes, I'm reserving the pasta water again. That stuff is starchy gold.
I diced around five ounces of Tasso ham that I'd brought back from New Orleans and cooked it in a tablespoon of olive oil in a deep skillet. That part went gangbusters, because well - it's Tasso, a deeply smoky, spiced ham that's a Caujn specialty. A diced shallot and two cloves of garlic (twice the recommended amount; I love garlic) followed the ham, but then I went off-book.
The recipe from which I was nominally working (it cited bacon rather than Tasso, but that's probably because they assumed you wouldn't just have a big ol' hunk of smoky pork hanging around) called for a cup of heavy cream. Sometimes, yes, but not that night. I subbed in 3/4 cup of 2% milk and 1/4 cup half-and-half, then stirred until it thickened a bit.
The noodles - the long, long noodles - then took a bath in the milky mixture, along with three tablespoons of the hot pasta water. I grated in some asiago, then skimped on the egg. Two yolks rather than four; I fully own my benevolent cowardice.
A smatter of salt, another flick of cheese - served. After having made my husband wait until nearly ten o'clock so I could noodle with fresh bucatini, I wasn't about to set up a schmancy shoot, so I snapped the crappy picture above and we tucked in.
It was good - really good, but I still know I could do better. I'll refine the pasta making. I won't half-step the fat. I'll set up the camera beforehand.
And feel free to come on over and eat with me. I may pepper you with questions, but at least the food will be at perfectly adequate.