Posts Tagged ‘Paula Deen’

October’s the Nigella Lawson of the year, an earth mother clad in warm colors, exuberant with life and heart, and eager to feed everybody. In temperate climates, farm stands overflow with the last of Summer’s tomatoes propped next to Fall’s butternuts. Apples, pears and figs hang heavy from trees, and the lustrous bloom on grapes foreshadows the frost soon to come.

With such abundance, it’s the best time of year to appreciate terroir—that ancient notion of place, and the confluence of elements from sky and soil that makes whatever that place produces unique.

In Italy in particular, each region takes enormous pride in the food that grew from its own soil, nourished by the peculiarities of the climate and the conditions of the land there. The pride of ownership comes from knowing that that patch of soil has its own character and what grows there can’t really be reproduced anywhere else.

What’s more, bringing together the produce of a region creates a unique harmony of flavor. Pasta made from local wheat, a sauce made from tomatoes from the garden, wine from the vineyard down the road, and ground beef from your sister-in-law’s farm—together they sing in their own distinctive way.

Calimyrna fig, a couple of days shy from ripeness.

Think about what your region produces. Is it known for specific types of fruits and vegetables? Unusual varieties, stuff that’s hard to find elsewhere? Or does it just grow the basics really, really well?

I live in New Jersey, which comes with its requisite jokes. But no one quibbles with our produce. Say what you will about us—we produce a damn good tomato. And peach, and apple, and blueberry, for that matter.

‘Liberty’ apple tree.

New Jersey’s beef, lamb, pork, poultry and cheese have a purity of flavor unmatched by those not eaten at the source. Beef stock made from local, pasture-fed cows won’t smell tinny or salty like canned stock. It will smell fresh and clean—like the grass that created it.

All of the produce in the photos here were taken at Silverton Farms in Toms River, NJ, an organic farm about which I could rhapsodize for hours. They do it right, from their philosophy (sustainability), to their work ethic (hard) to their exceptional produce (authentic flavors). They live terroir.

‘Pink Banana’ winter squash.

Now’s the time to get it all in—flavor, pleasure, pride.

Find out what’s growing around you right now and seek it out. Wherever you are, there’s something growing nearby; and whatever it is, since it’s in season, it doesn’t need much to make it taste the best it can. It might need nothing at all.

Take a bite. What you’re eating won’t taste like THIS anywhere else on the planet.¬† Do you taste it, the sweet conspiracy of sun and rain and wind on your little bit of the earth?

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I cook. this being unusual, when people find out I cook, you would think they’d give me droolworthy accounts of their bubbe’s brisket or of aunt gabriella’s lasagna that she serves pre-turkey every thanksgiving (kinda wish they would). no. instead, they inevitably ask what I think of the smattering of celebrity cooks on TV. have you ever seen that dude with the hair? what’s his name? the hyper one? and when they see my marzipan figures, they ask me about the cake boss. hmmph. (a mini editorial right there.)

so today I give my review of those who stick out in my mind, for good or ill, in no particular order. and I’m not including the dude with the hair (guy fieri, although I like him). grades are included. like they’re all a’shakin’, rattling around the 5 figures they keep in their wallets on any given thursday.

paula deen–A.
she gets an A, and I don’t cook everyday meals with a heifer’s worth of butter, either. but she’s adorable, she came back from broke and raised two sons at the same time, she’s admits she’s a messy cook, and she cares a lot more about the way it tastes than about the way it looks. she’d have to google¬† ‘pretentious’ to learn its meaning. a broad in the best sense of the word.

nigella lawson–A+.
serious win. another broad. she’s addicted to true flavors, she’s about being in the moment as she cooks, and she has a scathing sense of humor. I met her at a local book signing a few years ago. told her I love her cooking, but even more, I love her philosophy: she encourages audacity. on one show she carved a piece of lamb, and then looked at the camera and confided: ‘if you weren’t here watching, I’d be licking this cutting board.’ and all in the queen’s english. rock ON.

giada de laurentiis–B-.
she’s cool enough, but I liked her old show better. with the new one, you can make a pretty strong argument that it’s less about her cooking than about the setting. here’s the dreamy, white, eat-off-the-floor kitchen, here’s the azure pacific through the windows, here’s the pool tucked in among rustling palm trees. oh, yeah—and here’s a bowl of something. in the theatre world, we call this ‘pulling focus’, as in the setting pulls focus from the food. what did she cook? I don’t know—something with cilantro. where’s the remote?

rick bayless–A.
if the man wasn’t already 100% passionate about mexican ingredients, technique and flavors, watching him make guacamole with his daughter will warm you up better than any serrano pepper. he, like giada, cooks in his house, and has an enviable array of toys, like a blender the size of the sears tower and a cooking fireplace in his living room. but in this case—I don’t know why—it works for me. mexican families come to his chicago restaurant when they want to celebrate something special. tells you a lot.

cake boss–C.
he does have a certain carmine-ragusa charm, and my hat is off to him for taking on unusual challenges (I’m going to bring this one up, and you knew I was going to bring it up: a toilet cake….that flushes.) can I pose a teeny, tiny, seemingly irrelevant question? what do his cakes taste like? does anybody care? in order to keep them from collapsing, he builds cakes with more foundation than the sydney opera house. I will admit I have never tried a cake boss cake. a friend of mine did, though. it was designed to look like a scene from the movie the nightmare before christmas. verdict: looked fabulous, was nearly inedible. the cakes are sculpture. sometimes they’re great sculpture. but it’s not the same thing as food. you must factor in flavor and texture. if it doesn’t taste good, it’s no good.

so who do you all like? or despise? I know someone who loves ina garten b/c she’s soothing. that’s nice, I guess, but so’s yanni. the real question is, who makes you want to cook, to try new stuff (hmm…lime pickle?) old stuff (your great aunt’s lemon squares)? who makes you want to taste their cooking, visit their favorite places? my brother and sister-in-law and I have started a trend: visiting bobby flay throwdown locales. nothing but YUM so far. stay tuned.

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