Friday, November 17, 2006

Melissa Clark, television chefs, and pasta with beets and poppyseeds

Cooking is my artform, my passion, my hobby. I do NOT, however, watch television shows about cooking (although I used to watch the original "Iron Chef" in Japanese, which I adored; God, I love the Japanese culture, so crazy-seeming to me at times). I'm not a big television watcher in general [I follow only "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor", which Iris and I watch together; we are rooting for the Cho brothers on AR and Yul (me) and Becky (Iris) on Survivor].

Also, watching television about food seems kind of weird to me. I experience food primarily through creating it and eating it, not watching it remotely. How I learn about new foods I may wish to cook or eat: I read cookbook reviews, restaurant reviews, and "Food & Wine", I browse the cookbook sections at bookstores. I am able to keep up with the trends that way, and I'm constantly buying new cookbooks (although I'm maxing out on the number of cookbooks I can store in my kitchen, so I'll hit the ceiling in 2007 and won't be able to buy new ones without ditching some old ones).

This causes a disconnect between me and my friends who also like to cook, who are invariably all about television cooking shows. They are incredulous that I don't worship at the feet of Rachael Ray (people, Rachael Ray, no matter how adorable, never went to cooking school or worked in a restaurant! Her background is in retail!) or the Naked Chef (I've read his recipes, and I am unimpressed). Now first of all, those shows are unrealistic. They do not show the prep work or the clean-up, and they are heavily edited.

Next, I contend that what makes a person a television star is not cooking skills. It is cuteness. We don't assume that the best artists are on those obscure public television shows which try to teach you to paint; when we're arrested, we don't want to hire one of the Court TV newsreaders to represent us. Why would we assume television cooking show stars are the best cooks or that someone like me has something to learn from them?

I promise: if there were a cooking show starring my idols, Hubert Keller or Melissa Clark, I would watch it. I would even consider getting cable for that. I suspect my readers may have heard of Hubert Keller (amazing high end French chef who pioneered the first five star vegetarian tasting menu at his San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys, and who also has a restaurant in Vegas. The man is a genius). But probably no one is familiar with the work of Melissa Clark, my idol. I worship at that woman's feet (and I don't mean my favorite college roommate, Melissa Clarke, with whom I have sadly fallen out of contact. Melissa Clarke, originally of Revere, Mass., last heard of in Delaware, contact your beloved roommmate from hell!).

Melissa Clark is a gifted chef who primariy expresses herself through articles in Food and Wine magazine and through co-authoring cookbooks with more famous chefs. She is, no ifs, ands or buts, a genius. An article about holiday cocktail party food which she wrote years ago is the single best thing I've ever read about food, and I have cooked those recipes over and over again (one in particular, spiced cauliflower, is practically legendary among people who know me, the #1 most requested recipe I make).

These days, Melissa Clark is on a mission: to take the foods found in the finest restaurants, created by celebrity and non-celebrity chefs (NOT celebrity television hosts, people; chefs who actually cook for a living in restaurants!) and create versions of those recipes which can be prepared at home realistically. (I do actually make some of Hubert Keller's recipes, which are not dumbed down, but most people are not me, and I can't cook like that every day). Yesterday, I made a dish from Melissa's "Chef, Interrupted" cookbook, and I loved it. It was unlike anything I'd ever eaten before, and it was delightful.

Fettucine with Beets, Parmesan and Poppy Seeds , an adaptation of a dish from Anna Klinger's Al Di La in Brooklyn

Sea salt
10 baby or small beets (about 1 1/2 lbs w/out greens), scrubbed and trimmed
1/4 cup poppy seeds
6 T unsalted butter
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb fettuccine
2/3 freshly grated Parmesan
b alsamic vinegar
1/4 C minced chervil or chives (I used chervil; incidentally, fried chervil is magnificent -- but I've never heard of anyone doing it other than me. Take that, television "chefs"!)

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Grate beets.

In a heavy saucepan over high heat, toast the poppy seeds about 1-2 min., until they smell nutty. Transfer to a bowl.

Reduce heat and melt 5 T of butter in pan. Stir in shredded beets and saute for 2 min. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low, cover pan, and cook for 8-10 min., until beets are tender.

Meanwhile, cook pasta. Drain and transfer to serving bowl, toss with remaining tablespoon of butter, grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. When the beets are tender, add to the pasta. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, add a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar, garnish with chervil or chives, and serve immediately.

Que aproveche!


Anonymous said...

Rachael Ray is indeed a joke, but for food science nerds like myself, Shirley Corriher (or her progeny, Alton Brown) are the tip-top.

That might be too science-y for you, though -- since you're a food experience kind of lady.

(signed, anonymous reader)

Anonymous said...

i have to admit i love Iron Chef America.

that confessed, this sounds yummy. i could also see using pine nuts for poppy seeds.

2amsomewhere said...

Having received an engineering education in my earlier years, I have to throw in a vote for Alton Brown, too. His cookbook I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking is a classic.

Anonymous said...

Rachael Ray bugs me.

Alton Brown is da bomb!

Anthony Bourdain is just too cool for words! I LOVE HIM!

Do you have Raw Food Real World by Sarma Melngailis & Matthew Kenney?

the Drunken Housewife said...

I will look for both those books. I have only one raw foods cookbook, by Roxanne I-forget-her-last-name, coauthored by Charlie Trotter. Tex, post me a recipe from your book so I can get a hint of it's style?