Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When in Doubt, Alliterate

When I first started cooking I used to drive my mother crazy with my quirky experiments in flavor combinations.  I would try to see how many spices I could use, how much sweet could go with that bitter, or what crazy way I could twist a traditional dish.  It came partly from the trend that was happening, and still is, where "fusion" and experimentation are more hip and important than where the food actually comes from or preserving it's true taste.   But it also came from the simple fact that I was learning.  I had to experiment and really get to know what goes with what and why and how before I could actually make it work.  You just can't believe what other people say or write when you are fifteen years old; you have to do it your darn self.  You have to find the delicate edge between too much salt and not enough with your own tongue, not trust a recipe.   And if you get the wild idea that blueberries might be good with beets, the only way to find out is to try it.   I have come to respect the art of cooking simply and try with every meal to achieve a perfect fresh balance.  It's really, really hard to make each ingredients shine as bright as they should without muddying them up with spices or tricky sauces.  There is a very fine line between bland and fantastic and it is an art to draw out the personality of every vegetable, hunk of meat, and piece of fruit so that they not only stand alone but also mingle harmoniously with their bowl-mates, whoever that may be.   Only sometimes do I feel like I have achieved this and it is a wonderful feeling to do justice to the hard work the plants, animals and farmers put into each ingredient.  I won't pretend that I can do that well yet, I still stumble all over the place and over-flavor all the time.  Of course, it is impossible to cook well and simply without good food, and good food gives you such an advantage.   And every now and then I revert completely back to my wild and crazy days of basing meals on the first letter of the ingredient, or the color of the food (I made an all black meal once that really wasn't half bad....)  I believe that it is impossible to be a bad cook, you just have to lose all fear and listen to the food.   (and shop from your local farmers because they do the hardest part- growing stuff that tastes amazing all by itself)

Baked Beets with Blue Cheese, Blackberries and Blueberries

I've often made roasted beet and raspberry salad with feta or blue cheese.  There really isn't any difference here except that all ingredients start with "b".  

For four people:
  • 6-9 medium sized beets, sliced into wedges (skin on)
  • 1 cup blue cheese of your choice (mine was from undisclosed sources and very good, but Greenlife has a nice selection),  crumbled or diced
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 3/4 cup blackberries
  • salt to taste
  • oil
Toss the beets in oil to coat and bake in a 350 degree oven til slightly withered and nice and soft (about 35 minutes).  Let cool slightly and toss with berries and cheese.  Taste for salt and toss with more oil, if desired.  Serve warmish.

Bratwurst and Brown Rice

  • 1 cup short or sweet (or combo) brown rice 
  •  2 cups water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 Link 41 brats, sliced
Cover rice with water and salt and bring to a boil.  Turn to a simmer and cook til done, about 45 minutes.  When water has been completely absorbed and rice is tender, turn off heat and let sit.  Fry sliced brats in cast iron skillet til browned and firm.  Toss with warm rice and taste for salt.  Serve warm, room temp, or even cold the next day.

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