Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Stop It, Rachel

I made a pot roast yesterday.  No real reason, just had a chuck roast in the oven and I wanted to know what a traditional pot roast was all about.  I don't remember ever eating it in my youth, only in "upscale comfort" restaurants when they were all the rage.  We had brisket at Passover and other occasions when 'company' was present.   They are similar cuts with similar preparations, and likewise, are a similar litmus of what kind of cook you are.  Braising a tough cut like a brisket or pot roast will make you celebrated, or infamous. 

 This was a recipe for "Yankee Pot Roast" from Molly Steven's All About Braising, a book I've had a lot of success with (except for the instructions for tying a roast--don't bother if you can't give  halfway clear instructions!).  It has you brown the meat, braise it with stock and onion, and the only seasonings are salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme and clove.  Later you add some root vegetables.  Though the seasonings are spare, the result is a refreshingly plain and unadulterated pot roast, probably served best the next day.

After braising, cooling, and de-fatting the pot roast, I had no ideas on what to do with it.  I am, after all, only one human, on a diet, with a sizable piece of meat.  I made a meal of a few slices, ate most of the vegetables hot, and then cold, with a little fleur de sel, and then froze the rest of the meat with the help of my trusty foodsaver.  With it safely stored in the freezer and out of reach of my grazing paws, I started searching for ideas for leftover pot roast.  A google search for "leftover pot roast recipes" was pretty standard: soups, hashes, and stroganoffs, which I think is wrong.  Since the cuts are similar and I have fond memories of eating a brisket lasagna a few years ago, a "leftover brisket recipe" search was also implemented.  Again, the results were about the same which made me realize I need to stop google-searching everything I come across and simply experiment.  Stay tuned for the pot-roast ravioli post on a later date. 

 Something did catch my eye in the brisket search though, something very wrong that became the impetus of this post.  Rachel Ray's Egg Nog Bake.  This is, as close as I can tell, a noodle kugel that calls for enough nutmeg to make it 'distinctive' at best, but I'll put my money on 'off-putting.'  Hey, I love nutmeg; I come from the nutmeg state.  I use a touch of it in my bechamel and it's the secret ingredient in one of my favorite cookies, the walnut hermit.  And most importantly, I love eggnog.  But it's not ok to wield strong flavors willy-nilly, in the name of a "new twist" on a classic.  It's liable to turn you off to nutmeg, eggnog and noodle kugel in one foul swoop.  And it's one of the reasons why I am just one more person who can't stand Rachel Ray.  

Rachel Ray.  To some extent, my resentment of her stems from jealousy.  For starters, she has my initials which I find sooo irritating.  Then, there is the matter of her rise to fame, which dates back to shortly after I tabled my cooking show, Eat Me.  Granted, my cooking show was about a dominatrix chef, who also happened to be a witch, who had a fictional cooking show which is what the cooking show as about.  But the recipes were real, and the inspiration came more from a deep love of cooking shows and an inexplicable need to make things as weird as possible.   I have to hold on to the belief that if I had taken out the leather and aliens, Eat Me would have found a place on cable television.  Or perhaps it was always a bad product that didn't see the light of day for a reason.  As much as Rachel Ray did for the popularity of cooking shows, she's also contributed to their degradation.  Watch an episode of The French Chef with Julia Child and you will see what I mean.   Julia teaches us the art of making a perfect omelette. Rachel throws together schlockily-named dishes under a ticking clock. 

Obviously, I am not her audience.  I grew up loving Julia, Graham Kerr and even poor Jeff Smith.  Now a new generation of cooking show hosts show us how to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible with the aid of a host of prepared foods.  If she is getting more people to cook, great.  But it seems like these days we could use someone reminding us what good food is, not someone convincing her public that a noodle kugel would be better if it reminded you of eggnog.  

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