The Taste of Things

Or: The Adventures of a Food Nazi: Chapter One

My sister calls me the Food Nazi because of what she perceives as my, errr… controlling ways when it comes to food. When she offers me a bite of cut-up melon from a round plastic wheel purchased at Costco, I tell her I might as well eat a Q-tip. “That’s a manufactured product. It is not food!”

“I guess that means, ‘no?'” she says, laughing as she pops another cube in her mouth. She’s older, so I guess I don’t get to her.

The main result of my behavior is that she and everyone else in my family simply offer me less food. They make me do all the cooking–even at their houses. “I’m afraid I’ll buy the wrong thing,” my poor mother says when I ask why she didn’t at least do some shopping before a holiday meal. You’d think I’d learn but frankly, I’m happy to do all the work if it means getting to eat the kind of food I want to eat.

That’s what I did last Sunday night, when I cooked a tenderloin (100% Angus beef; a gift from Kay Chino), sauteed zucchini (first of the season), roasted Yukon golds, sauteed Brussels sprouts with bacon, and for dessert: creme fraiche panna cotta and luscious sweet Chino strawberries. I’d picked up some baby red spinach at the farm, too, that I’d planned to cook with a touch of cream, but I didn’t have time, so I left it with my sister. “YOU HAVE TO COOK IT TONIGHT! I emailed her the next morning. “Or it will go bad! DO NOT let it go bad!” I have a thing about wasting food, too.

She evidently did as I told her that time and the next day, she brought the leftover spinach to work and sent me this email:

On Mar 10, 2009, at 3:49 PM, christy carreno wrote:

this spinach is DELICIOUS!!!

And it was. Even I had been surprised at just how good it tasted when I took a bite of it raw. “Isn’t it amazing how good it tastes!” I wrote her, annoyingly. “How much it tastes!”

When I get an email like that, I think: Call me what you will. Make me do the dishes too. It’s all worth it.

* * *

Yesterday Harry’s Berries had the sweetest, most beautiful strawberries. They’d had a few before, but this marked the beginning of the season. You might as well learn early how to make this delicious tangy panna cotta to go with. Panna cotta means “cooked cream” in Italian. It’s an eggless custard, bound by gelatin so it’s lighter and more refreshing than something like creme brulee, which has more egg yolks than you really want to know. I think of it as cream Jell-o.

Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta
(from Sunday Suppers)

1/2 cup cold whole milk
1/4-ounce package unflavored gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
6 T sugar
vegetable oil (for molds)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 1/2 pints strawberries

Place the milk in a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it, and stir to combine.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and 5 T sugar to a boil. Lightly oil eight 40ounce ramekins or custard cups (or a large gratin dish if serving family style.)

When the cream mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let it sit a few minutes.

Slowly whisk the cream into the gelatin, and then whisk in the creme fraiche.

Strain the mixture, and pour it into the prepared molds. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

Ten minutes before serving, slice the strawberries, and toss them with a tablespoon or so of sugar, to taste.

Run a hot knife around the edges of the panna cotta and invert them onto individual chilled plates (or a large chilled platter). Surround the custard with the strawberries and their juice.


One thought on “The Taste of Things

  1. I know very well of the syndrome you describe! What makes things worse, is we never get invited over to anyone’s home for dinner because people are intimidated to cook for me. I am here to report that those of us who cook for a living are delighted when people cook for us, and not picky or judgmental in the least. I save that for meals that I have to pay for! So, invite a chef to dinner tonight, Ill bring the wine!

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