Right before we went to Boston last week, we had party with my uncle Luis, his wife Ana Maria, and my grandmother. The only dish I made that didn't come from Gourmet Today was the guacamole (excellent Rick Bayless version with tomatillos) and the guests -- all natives of Guatemala -- informed me that this chunky Mexican guacamole lacked the suave, elegant texture of Guatemalan guacamole, which is essentially pureed and, of course, far superior. Having stated their case, they basically scraped the bowl clean of the barbaric Mexican guacamole and my grandmother took the dish to her place at the table and used the last bits as a relish for the rest of the meal.
I served straciatella, a chicken soup with spinach and egg that was fine, and an eggplant souffle, that was also fine but didn't rise one centimeter, so I called it a frittata. I forced myself not to apologize.
For dessert, we had roasted pears with candied celery because I wanted to taste candied celery.
To make this, you halve and core Bosc pears and lay them in a bed of sliced celery and pour over everything a lemony, sugary syrup spiked with expensive dessert wine.
I used the cheapest dessert wine I could find (Moscato) and it cost $15 for a half bottle, which gave me pain.
You roast the pears until tender, remove them from the oven and place them in a serving dish while you boil down the syrup and celery. When the celery is shiny, sticky, and almost jammy, you take it off the heat, pour it over the pears, and serve.
Like the rest of the meal it was fine; the celery tasted only vaguely of celery, mostly it was just achingly sweet. We enjoyed this novelty dish, but I'd never make it again and I'm worried that a lot of Gourmet Today recipes are going to fall into this category.
There's more to this story. Many months ago, I stated steeping vanilla using inexpensive beans I bought in bulk on amazon. Since I couldn't decide what liquor to use, I made three batches: one with dark rum, one with golden rum, one with vodka. I cut the beans into pieces, stuffed them into three jars, and added the booze. Then I let them sit and sit and sit.
To embellish the pears, I decided I would make custard sauce and divide it into four portions and flavor each with a different vanilla, including a supermarket vanilla. Then we would taste them all, discuss, and declare a winner.
I wish I could say there was a dramatic finale to the vanilla experiment, but you had to really concentrate if you wanted to detect a difference between the batches of custard sauce. There was a weak preference for the homemade vanilla made with light rum and I would say the dark rum was the loser. The supermarket vanilla was definitely the mildest, but I'm not sure that was a bad thing; it didn't overshadow the bright flavors of the milk and egg.
Really, though, the differences were so subtle it was hard to make a case for any of these vanillas. I haven't priced it out, but on flavor alone, homemade vanilla -- at least as made by me -- is no better than McCormick's.
A scene from our home a few minutes ago:
Owen: Mom! Dad!
Owen: I asked the Magic 8 ball if any more of our chickens are going to die and he said, "My sources say no!"
Tipsy (heart sinking): That's wonderful.
Husband: Ask the Magic 8 ball if I am the handsomest dad in Tam Valley.
Owen: Aaahh! He says "Don't count on it." Wait, let me try again.
I find nine to be a very sweet age.