Monday, November 21, 2011

Marge Simpson, Food Blogger

I am and always have been a huge fan of The Simpsons. Ralph Wiggum was included in my high school yearbook quote (he was also one of the first embroideries I ever did). In college, I taught two semesters of a class on The Simpsons and American society with a friend (the first semester, the class was only for freshmen, and 90% of the incoming class signed up to take it).  There was a chunk of time when the show was just too bad to watch, but it has definitely been much, much better in the last few years. Like most fans, though, I can be a bit wary - current episodes are often hit or miss and are never as strong as the earlier seasons.

So when I heard that Marge was going to become a food blogger (even if only for one episode), I was a bit worried. Would Marge's new job be a success (pretzel wagon saleswoman) or a failure (erotic baker)? Would the writers just take the easy jabs, or would they actually pay enough attention to the culture to get it right?

I can happily say that they hit this episode, entitled The Food Wife, on the mark, even if it does pinpoint the pretentious nature of many food blogs a little too accurately. The basic story? Marge, Bart, and Lisa are driving in the car when it breaks down in Little Ethiopia, a previously unknown section of Springfield. They go into a restaurant and Marge (and the kids) are wowed by the food they try there. They meet a bunch of foodies, led by Comic Book Guy, who actually searched the restaurant out, and Marge is swiftly on her way to becoming a foodie. Marge, Bart, and Lisa start their own food blog, called The Three Mouthketeers, while Homer looks on. In fact, Homer seems to be firmly against food blogs or even trying new foods, saying things like "I don't eat anything new unless I've eaten it before" or "I don't want to think about food, I want to like it!" or "All the food in those pictures is poop by now." Marge and Homer are quickly and firmly on two very different sides of the debate.

The video above is by far the funniest part of the episode (I mean, who doesn't love a montage?!). Do a little freeze-framing and you can see Marge’s favorite food gadgets (Marshallow Puffer, Immersion Toaster, Raisin Re-graper, Industrial Tagine, Soup Ruler, Cranberry Pitcher, Banana Separator, Souffle Barometer, Pressure Curder, Convection Slurper) or Bart's 4-star review of The Burger Maestro ("An ostrich burger with buffalo mozzarella? It’s like a zoo exploded in my mouth!"). A spoof of Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, the song name-checks chefs, food writers, cooking terms, and ethnic foods left and right. There's even a reprise of the song over the end credits that's even funnier than this version because it really gets down to the glamorous life of a blogger (We're bloggin' a food blog/ Setting up accounts for our users/ Using computers/ Most tweets every day, yo tweets every day/ Never give it four stars, ain't never give it four stars, maybe two, maybe three/ Moderating the comments/ Checking the page views, page views, page views).

Eventually, Marge and the kids get invited to dine at El Chemistri, a high-end and experimental restaurant in town. We see what I imagine is only a portion of the meal, but what a meal it is. It starts with mints placed in the mouth that vibrate when their table is ready. We see a deconstructed Caesar salad (romaine lettuce gel, egg yolk ice, crouton foam, and anchovy air), "Regret" (some kind of soup served on a pillow, which deflates when the soup is garnished with a single tear from the server's eye), Pork Chops 100 Ways, root vegetables "cooked in the perfect vacuum of outer space" ("They say you can't even understand parsnips until you've had zero-G parsnips"), and a doggie bag (woven from the silk of a blueberry-fed spider) of deconstructed apple pie (cue the ending of Ratatouille). You'd never think of Marge as the type of woman to try those dishes, so good for her!

My favorite moment of the episode (besides the song) was Homer's comment after watching the chef at El Chemistri make pine needle sorbet. He seems horrified by the very idea of pine needle sorbet - "Pine needle sorbet? Pine needle sorbet! My kids do not eat sorbet! They eat sherbet, and they pronounce it sherbert, and they wish it was ice cream!" 

(My other favorite moment from the episode was not food related but reminded me of my father - Marge calls the kids "gang," and Bart shoots back "I hate it when grownups call kids 'gang.'" I hope you enjoyed that, Dad.)

If you could have one of Marge's favorite kitchen gadgets, which one would it be and why?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday I'm In Love... with Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramel and Black Sea Salt

Recovered from your Halloween sugar coma? I would have traded all the Halloween candy I ate for just one of these bad boys. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar - Caramel with Black Sea Salt (say that 10 times fast) is just too damn good. It's a very good 70% chocolate with a nice snap, filled with a deliciously runny caramel and topped with giant flakes of salt. I'm a fool for anything salty/sweet, and if you add in chocolate, it's a perfect trifecta. This bar doesn't fail on any of its three components. Oh, that caramel... I've heard rumors of jarred salted caramel at TJs, and if it's the same stuff as this, I'm glad I haven't found it yet - I would eat it all with a spoon.

This is not a pretty chocolate bar, though. I know, I took about 50 pictures of it. One side of the bar is nice and smooth, but the opposite side, where the salt is sprinkled, is more unruly. Between the salt, which could stand to be distributed a lot more evenly, and holes where the caramel had oozed out a bit, it becomes clear that the reason Trader Joe's can sell this bar for a very, very reasonable $2 and something is because it's pretty hideous. This isn't something to give as a gift, as it will win no beauty pageants. But then, I'd have a hard time giving one away. I want to keep them all for myself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lamb Pro-Am Finals

Sunday was the big day - the Lamb Pro-Am Finals! It was the first tasting-style event where my goal wasn't to make sure I hit every booth I could. Instead, I arrived early, met with Chef Jay Silva of Bambara, who walked me through the changes he had made to my dish, and then it was time to serve.

Since my original dish was a roast leg of lamb, Chef Silva had to change things around to make it something that could be served to 150 people in small servings. He created smaller roasts by cutting up the lamb, thus enabling each dish to get a perfect slice of meat and rice. He also used the rice mixture and some ground lamb to create little arancini, adding lots of crispiness to the dish. Pumpkin puree and a red wine reduction pulled the dish together. I was very pleased with his changes and how the final dish turned out. In fact, I'd be very happy to receive this dish in a restaurant. Or just a dish full of the arancini.

Sadly, we didn't win (although our dish was my favorite of the day - what, you think I wouldn't be bias?!). Robin of Doves and Figs and her partner Michael Scelfo of Russell House Tavern took home the prize.

I had a wonderful time participating in this event, completely unlike anything I'd ever done before. Hopefully there will be more Lamb Pro-Ams in the future, and we'll get to see more wonderful and creative lamb dishes. Many, many thanks to and to the American Lamb Board for setting all of this up - they both throw great parties, so keep an eye out for more from them both. In fact, BostonChefs Flavors of Fall is next week - it's a great way to see how restaurants respond to the change in seasons.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Berry Bellinis and Warm Raspberry Brie

On Friday night, I took part in my first Twitter party that was more than just a bunch of people discussing something for an hour. Driscoll's Berries and chef Rick Rodgers hosted the event, where tons of bloggers cooked holiday dishes based around raspberries, then watched (and discussed) as Chef Rodgers demonstrated the recipes live.

I headed to my friend Ann's house (where I do most of my cooking) and started prepping in the afternoon. The "party" started at 8, so we started mixing the drinks around just before, then settled in to a meal of appetizers and dessert. Five recipes were offered to us, and I cooked four of them (leaving out the wild rice, because I've never been a big fan of the stuff). We had a few rounds of berry bellinis, a fantastic dish of warm brie with raspberries and pistachios, roasted acorn squash with a raspberry sauce, and panna cotta topped with balsamic raspberries. We listened to the live chat on and off while discussing whatever geeky things were on our mind and stuffing our maws full of the brie (we polished off that dish in record time, especially impressive because one of the four of us doesn't even eat brie). When all was said and done, I came away with two recipes that I LOVED and intend to make again.

Berry Bellinis
1 oz St. Germaine (elderflower liqueur)
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
4 raspberries
3 oz dry sparkling wine

In a cocktail shaker, combine St. Germaine, lemon juice, simple syrup, and berries. Top with ice and shake vigorously.  Pour champagne into a flute, then top with St. Germaine mixture. Garnish with a raspberry.

Warm Brie with Raspberries and Pistachios
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 small wheel of Brie, top rind sliced off
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 package (6 ounces) raspberries

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a small saucepan, toast pistachios over medium heat, tossing occasionally so they don't burn. Transfer to a plate.

Place Brie, cut side up, on a small glass baking dish (I use a small pie dish, so it can go straight from the oven to the table). Bake until warm and top is softened but not oozing, about 15 minutes.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together honey, vinegar, and rosemary. Add raspberries and pistachios and gently fold the sauce over them. Pour raspberry mixture over the top of the cheese and serve immediately (I like water crackers, my friends preferred slices of baguette).

Full Disclosure note: The berries were provided via free coupons from Driscolls. I paid for all the other ingredients, though - well, the ones I didn't swipe from Ann's pantry.