Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Platter of Figs: Feels like old times

Sometime during the winter, I decided to review David Tanis' Platter of Figs, but since his book is based on seasonal menus I stopped when I'd executed all the winter menus. I had some problems with the book, but decided to hold off before issuing a final judgement until I'd cooked at least one menu from  another season. 

Which brings us to last night and Tanis' so-called Supper of the Lamb:
-Warm asparagus vinaigrette
-Shoulder of spring lamb with flageolet beans and olive relish
-Rum baba with cardamom

First, a shopping challenge. I could not find "shoulder of spring lamb" in any local market, so I bought the tiniest leg of lamb I've ever seen. I don't remember the weight, but it cost $9.90 at Whole Foods. If you buy much meat, you know that is one petite leg. I roasted it, sliced it up, and served it on a bed of flageolet beans. 

Now, a shopping question. What is the deal with flageolet beans? One pound cost almost $7 at Mill Valley Market. Are flageolets that much better than Great Northern White beans that they merit paying three times as much? I know, I know, they're incomparable, pale-green, delicate, French, etc. etc. but the price galls me.

And yet another shopping issue. Asparagus. Here's Tanis on asparagus: "Ask any cook who has worked with me -- they'll tell you I'm a fanatic about asparagus. I've driven kitchen apprentices half crazy making them go through entire cases to choose only the the most perfect spears. I adore asparagus but it must be freshly picked or I'm not interested."

He goes on for two more paragraphs. I appreciate the information. I will feel very privileged when/if my asparagus seedlings mature next spring and I, too, can savor "only the most perfect spears." Meanwhile, the asparagus at the supermarket comes in a bunch held together with a fat rubberband and it is not, I suspect, "ultrafresh." Tanis' preparation -- boil, dress with a very light vinaigrette -- did nothing to enhance this particular bunch. The way I usually cook asparagus is to roast it with a little olive oil in a very hot oven until it shrivels and turns dark brownish-green, a procedure that makes even tired, middle-aged asparagus delicious.

It's not fair of me to hold Tanis' ingredient fetishes against him. He has exacting standards for his ingredients, and this is important. We should all be a little pickier. It's just that the barriers to entry for some of these dishes are rather high for an ordinary American cook.

Unanimous verdict on the lamb, beans, and asparagus: fine, nothing special.

The rum babas, on the other hand, were divisive. These are eggy, yeasted cakes that you bake in a muffin tin and then drench with a sticky rum-flavored syrup. 

Husband: "Anything with rum in it, I don't like."

Isabel: "I'm not going to have one because I don't like things with rum in them." 

Owen: "I would have tried one, but everyone said I wouldn't like it. "

Tipsy: "Sometimes it's depressing, cooking for this family."

This was a crazy good dessert. I have eight babas left and I don't know how I'm going to stop myself from eating them all for lunch. It occurred to me to feed them to the chickens, but I worry the rum would make small creatures drunk. I could swear that after I give them scraps of green tea cake they start squawking more and running around. 

I have not forgotten about the green tea cake.


  1. A couple of thoughts.

    "Supper of the Lamb" sounds so. . .sacrificial. That doesn't rev my appetite, and combined with your experience with the other Tanis meals makes his book an easy pass for me.

    Flageolet. Worth it, IF I'm in Carcassone eating cassoulet. Not so much here where I've found Great Northerns to be just fine.

    And the baba. They look amazing --rich and brioche-y. And they're flavoured with rum. I would have had three for breakfast.

  2. Do not feel depressed by the cold reception to the babas. For some reason babas are very divisive because of the rum, or the eggs or the yeast. I stick to it at parties and those who know me will bring the dessert of their liking.
    From what you have already pointed out about this book, and other comments I have read on the web, maybe it is time to let go of A platter of figs.


  3. Yes, I think I am done with the Platter of Figs. I am doing no one any favors -- not David Tanis, not myself -- by continuing.

  4. re: "anything with rum... comment.
    daquiris? dark and stormies, hot buttered rums? rum cake?
    egg nog?
    i could go on and on.

  5. Hell, I want one of those rum babas. They look like brioche crossed with a honey dipped doughnut.

  6. I think you mean "the price Gauls me."