Monday, March 03, 2014

A misspent Monday


This post is for serious cookbook nerds only. Anyone else who reads it will roll their eyes and pity me, so please go do something else.

Ed Lee’s Smoke and Pickles lost to Roberta’s Cookbook in the Piglet this morning and I found myself surprisingly put out. You can read the judgment here . I had a handful of problems with this verdict and here they are:

First of all, I’ve made the salmon rice bowl from Smoke and Pickles that reviewer Aran Goyoaga tested and it was not, in my opinion, “too saucy.” I thought it was lovely, one of my favorite dishes from the book. The sauce she refers to is a remoulade that you add to your individual rice bowl and it was as easy to control how much you dolloped on your portion as it is to control how much butter you put on your toast. She made the same “too saucy” criticism of Lee's sauteed squid and bacon salad, which I haven't tried, but here again, it looks like one could easily calibrate the quantity of dressing so as not to “drown” the squid. I had plenty of problems with Smoke and Pickles, which I cooked from extensively last year, but her criticisms didn’t add up.  I felt that Goyoaga’s indifference/dislike was about something more than "too saucy," something that she didn’t or couldn’t pinpoint, or pinpointed and chose not to articulate. I wish she had. I still might have disagreed, but the review would have made more sense to me.

Second, I couldn’t see how the dishes she described from Roberta’s Cookbook -- burrata salad, beet salad, sea bass, gingerbread -- offered more “surprise” than the food in Smoke and Pickles. A beet salad? Were there other truly "surprising" dishes in the book that she just didn't happen to mention in the review? Or was "surprise" an unfortunate choice of words? Because from what I read in the review, Lee's was by far the more "surprising" cookbook.   

Third, I have an outsider complex and wanted the Korean guy from Kentucky to prevail over the Brooklyn pizzeria where they shot an episode of GirlsThis is a problem with me, not Goyoaga's analysis. And it is silly.

Since I’m taking the week off, I decided to misspend the day and drove over to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of Roberta’s. My family will be delighted to know that we’re having both a burrata salad and sauteed squid and bacon salad for dinner tonight. Someone should videotape this meal. 

Meanwhile, I baked the Roberta’s gingerbread, which Goyoaga describes as “moist and full of flavor and surprisingly easy to convert to gluten free.” How could it not be full of flavor when it's so full of ingredients? This gingerbread contains twenty two ingredients, including black pepper, caraway seeds, cinnamon, coriander, celery salt, juniper berries, almond flour, regular flour, cornstarch, honey, molasses, brown sugar. . . 

You could probably edit that list without losing much.

Results? It’s spectacularly good and seriously hot. Your whole mouth glows from the spices, especially if you eat it while it’s warm. I love that heat and guarantee I will be the only one in this household who does. 

There's only one problem with this gingerbread, but it's a big one: STRINGS. The grated ginger had long, tough fibers that you absolutely do not want in your gingerbread or your mouth. I followed the book’s grating instructions to the letter and when I looked at the photo of gingerbread in the book, saw that there are strings in their gingerbread too. How is this possible? Do they really serve gingerbread with strings in it? Are my strings just tougher and more offensive than theirs? Was something wrong with my ginger? How did Goyoaga not encounter the string problem? Did she encounter it and not mention it? Is this something a Vitamix might fix? Something one could avoid by mincing instead of grating the ginger? 
see? 
Anyway, if you're still reading: While the Roberta's gingerbread is fabulous, strings or no, I still think the wrong book won. I have a lot more to say on this. Sadly.

30 comments:

  1. Feel free to say it, that's what your readers count on here! We love your opinions and your writing. We love your passion! I agree with your analysis of the gingerbread. Those strings look really unappetizing.

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    Replies
    1. Mark saw the gingerbread and said, what's wrong with this? It's hairy!

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  2. I have Smoke and Pickles, and while I've tried to love it, it doesn't work for me. I think it is the mayonnaise in every other dish. I know nothing about Roberta's, so no opinion abut who should have won that round.

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    Replies
    1. See, that is a very brief and clearly articulated reason for not liking Smoke and Pickles. He does like his remoulade and his food is definitely heavy.

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  3. I've gotten into the habit of always mincing fresh ginger, even if the recipe calls for grating it. Because, yeah, strings are gross. I have actually felt bad about this, assuming that there is something wrong with the way I grate. But maybe it's not me after all...

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    Replies
    1. I have never had the strings before, but that's probably because I always minced or put the ginger in the mini food processor.

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  4. I agree completely that Goyoaga's dismissal of the book was based on strange details that even a moderately experienced cook could work with. Disliking something because it is "too saucy" is straight out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where this criticism is lampooned as ridiculously irrelevant. Agree also that if there was something else at play here, it would be nice to know. I certainly HOPE there was something else at play, because I can't make sense of it otherwise. Also agree that rooting for the underdog is appealing, particularly given that all things Brooklyn have become all things Boring for me. Hasn't there been a lot of talk in the Piglet this year about things being "twee"? While I gather Roberta's is pretty rough-and-tumble, Brooklyn can make even dumpster diving twee. So I call twee on Roberta's, even if it's a foraging twee with dirt all over it.

    A Vitamix, if you can get your hands on one, will indeed grind up the strings in ginger to a fine pulp. I don't own one myself but used to make a gingerbread at a restaurant I worked at using ginger, mixed with some of the sugar the recipe calls for, pureed in the Vitamix.

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    Replies
    1. I think I figured out her problem by making those two salads last night. I think "saucy" might be code (or even a synonym) for "heavy" or "messy."

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  5. A Japanese ceramic ginger grater makes quick, string-free ginger pulp. I use mine several times a week.

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    Replies
    1. It doesn't surprise me that in Japan they know how to do it.

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  6. We have a small ceramic French ginger grater (lovely, with tiny sharp teeth), given to us by a friend, that does the same thing: produce ginger pulp without strings. Highly recommended.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. Japanese, Korean, French -- I'll look into it.

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  7. I have a cheap plastic Korean ginger grater that gives you stringless pulp. I bet Edward Lee's ginger cake is free of strings. I am sure all those twee Brooklynites will start crafting a ceramic or wooden artisanal version that they can sell at a 1000% markup once they realize people don't really like hairy gingerbread. But dammit, now I really want that book because I probably do have all those spices after obsessively cooking Indian food last year.

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    Replies
    1. I can send you the recipe. If you got rid of the strings, the gingerbread would be great. When that cake was warm, it was the "warmest" cake I've ever tasted. It got much more subdued as it cooled.

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  8. Did you try the Tobacco Cookies from Smoke & Pickles? Sorry to be a little off-topic, but that was the strangest cookie recipe I have ever seen!

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    1. Not off topic at all. When I first got the book I was determined to make those, but I never got around to them. I was thinking today that instead of resisting the weird recipes (and those that call for hard-to-find ingredients), I should throw myself at them first. How much do I really learn by just doing the easy, familiar stuff?

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  9. I have heard great things about Roberta's pizza dough recipe, but I am far behind on trying pizza dough recipes (Mozza, Jim Lahey....).

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    Replies
    1. I will have to read it. I haven't sat down and actually read through the recipes yet.

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  10. I'm no expert, but I have taken to freezing my ginger, and then using a microplane to grate. You don't have to peel it, and no strings. Works great for daily use (stir fry, etc.), but you might have to weigh instead of measure with more exact recipes.

    Love your blog!

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