Thursday, May 8, 2008

The shiny little lamb grows up

Hiya friends,

I have been had. Not once either. Dozens of times. Remarkably, I continue to put my hand in the fire and feel surprised about the heat and the ensuing burn. It is those infernal magazine pictures again. Always so come-hither-and-cook-me so you can eat something marvelous and reawaken yourself from that gauzy haze of 1001 Asian Chicken Salads you've been eating in appearance.

And there I sit, reading and wishing I had the photogenic food before me. Having a hard time learning my lesson. The problem is the same now as when I was in corporate life: Every morning I get up and get ready to face the world: Makeup and hair in order. Sassy, perky little outfit. Cute shoes. I am shiny. And more often than not, I, the sweet little bouncing happy lamb, walk into a repetitive situation where I leave with the psychological equivalent of being a bouncy shiny lamb whose ear is hanging off and bleeding. Clothes torn and filthy, limping on one broken heel. Hair all matted and sticky, I retreat. Corporate life was not going to become any more pleasant, the way the occasional food photograph is not going to become any more like an actual food I can recreate. When I am abused by food magazines, I feel I am a fundamentally wronged innocent: Harmed, dirtied, and indelibly wounded; By The Brisket, by a certain chanterelle soup I would rather forget, and so on...

Yesterday, I once again gussied myself up and began the day sparkling and sweet (Alright, maybe sweet would be pushing it.) and decided to do something about lunch before the morning was swept away. For a few days, I had been looking forward to making the Georgian Cheese Bread recipe in this month's Gourmet magazine. But it is not as simple as waving my wooden spoon, enthusiastically bellowing, "Zap!" and then I have the bread, (which is more like pizza, really). No, you have to plan to execute a multi-step, multi-hour process because there is yeast involved and those herculean mites will not be rushed.

I began at 9:30 am and by 1:30 pm I had a pizza dough (and just a pizza dough, friends, not an extraordinary recipe like the one in the New York Cookbook, not even a good one like such as graces How to Cook Everything). Just a dough you might get out of a can marked Pillsbury. The addition of one egg to what is normally a pizza recipe did not make a remarkable change to the dough such as would prevent me from using my great pizza recipe, or getting a crust from the local pizza guy. It was such a disappointment to have hours of a short and promising life tied up with this recipe: The fools errand of a magazine photo true-believer

And then, because some days disappointment knows no bounds, the Havarti and mozzarella cheese to be inserted into the dough was not nearly enough. It might be a scarce half of an what the concept was begging for.

I think it is a fine idea to make the recipe and add twice as much cheese, then you too can get over the romanticised name "Georgian Cheese Bread" and have stuffed crust pizza for lunch (this managing your expectations, you shiny sweet lamb), which is what this is, like it or not.

But there was one remarkable upside to this meal: A recipe from the Blue Willow Inn Cookbook (a volume often vilified on these pages) was the precursor to an idea for a fresh Tomato Chutney: A worldbeater great with "Georgian Cheese Bread" (or, stuffed white pizza). In the original recipe, canned diced tomatoes were used and that sounded perfectly vile; Knowing, as I do, that the authors (and dubious "test kitchen") of this book cannot be trusted (I refer you to the Sweet Potato Bread incident), I decided to improve upon a great idea which they managed to make contemptible, heretofore to be known as Actually Good Tomato Chutney.

Actually Good Tomato Chutney
adapted from the Blue Willow Cookbook by Louis and Billie Van Dyke
4 Servings

1 1/2 pounds fresh roma tomatoes, chopped
6 green onions, top and bottom ends discarded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons light brown sugar, be sure this is free of lumps
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons hot sauce, more or less to taste
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients, and stir until evenly combined. Refrigerate at least four hours. Serve next to meats, substantial fishes, poultry, and starches.

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