Monday, October 3, 2011

A (Short) Trip With Giada

Giada at Home with Giada De Laurentiis

The description of this episode had me a bit confused. “Inexpensive dishes to bring along on vacation,” said the TiVo guide. Nothing says relaxing vacation like lugging along a bunch of cheap food that I’ve labored over at home. Not!

I don’t even know what it means to bring dishes on vacation. Ingredients, maybe, so you can whip something up. Also, unless you’re in a house, where are you going to store the food? And if you ARE in a house, why can’t you make whatever it is when you get there?

Before I go too crazy, let’s see what Giada has in mind. Apparently, she's going to Newport for the weekend with Jade and Todd. Does she mean Newport, RHODE ISLAND? Isn’t that kind of far to be bringing food?

Maybe she’s talking about Newport BEACH in the OC. (I know people who live there never call it the OC, but I like to pay homage to that fine television drama.) I suppose any time away from home is a vacation, but I think it’s a bit of stretch to be calling a 45 minute trip down the 405 a vacay. (Yeah, I know, they could take the 5 too.)

Anyway, Giada tells us that she’s making “delicious food that will make vacation even better”. I admit I’m definitely a proponent of the go-out-to-dinner school when I’m on a vacation. One night in is okay if you’re dealing with shut-ins or small children. Other than that, let’s go out!

But this is a cooking show and I get that they need different scenarios. (There was one shot of Giada in the opening sequence that showed truly eye-popping cleavage. That could be considered a 5 second vacation for most men. I guess if you’ve got it, flash it.)

Giada starts with a tart that can be served at room temperature and travels well (all the way to the OC from LA). She adds almond and all-purpose flour to the food processor with lots of fresh herbs. That’s different. Then she adds cold, chopped butter and ice water to finish the pastry. (Giada’s eye makeup is gorgeous and matches her top perfectly.)

Giada wraps her finished dough in plastic wrap and chills it for 20 minutes to make it easier to roll out. Two things here: Unless I’m making pate sucrée, which is basically a sugar cookie type of crust, I never make an all-butter dough. I know many think Crisco is awful, but I find it makes the pastry “shorter” or flakier. (You can always use lard instead.) All-butter crusts can also be really difficult to work with. If they’re not chilled, they’re a gluey mess and if they’re TOO chilled, you need a sledge hammer to flatten them out.

Whatever fats go into it, I have an unorthodox way of dealing with pastry. I don’t chill it before rolling it out. I take the finished dough and place it between two sheets of plastic wrap. I roll it out and if it’s not incredibly soft, I line the pie pan with it and then chill THAT. If it IS very soft, I'll chill the rolled out sheets of pastry for a bit before lining the pie pan. And it’s not a bad idea to chill the LINED pie dish for a few minutes, no matter what method you use. (My shortcrust pastry recipe is at the end of this post for your perusal.)

After Giada’s dough has chilled for 20 minutes, she rolls it out with quite a lot of flour. (I don’t need to use flour with the plastic wrap method…usually.) Her dough looks really thick and not nicely finished around the top edge. What’s going on? She’s not taking a lot of trouble with this. She bakes it blind (or unfilled) at 350°F for 12 to 14 minutes. How about baking beans or pie weights? She does prick the crust before baking, but weighing it down with weights or beans is extra insurance against puffing up.

For the filling, Giada sautés chopped leeks in olive oil. She adds 6 cups of arugula with some salt and cooks it until it’s wilted. (Giada sounds like she has a cold…maybe that’s why she didn’t bother with the crust.) She adds the leeks and arugula to the cooked pie shell and then some chopped, smoked salmon, goat cheese and 6 beaten eggs. Hmm. No milk or cream? I guess there’s enough goat cheese in there and so many eggs that it’s unnecessary. She bakes the filled tart shell for 40 minutes at 350°F.

Next Giada is making a cold cauliflower soup, which she loves for road trips. Now I’m really confused. If she’s in LA, isn’t Newport Beach only about 45 miles away?

I know the usual hour trip could take double the time with traffic, but I’m still not getting why it’s necessary to bring supplies as in a sturdy tart or a soup that will hold. That would be like going from Greenwich Village to Darien, Connecticut. A candy bar would suffice, wouldn’t it?

For the soup, Giada cooks shallot and garlic with celery. Giada tells us (very enthusiastically) that thyme goes into the soup and on the croutons. She cuts the cauliflower off the stalk and adds it in. She pours over chicken stock to cover all the vegetables well. She says to cook the mixture until the veggies are completely soft, so the soup can be easily puréed.

This is odd. Giada says Todd eats chips or popcorn on road trips and she eats croutons. (I eat skinny pretzel sticks. I suck all the salt off…oh, you probably don’t want to hear about this.) Giada cuts up bread for the croutons, but who’s packing for their trip, while she’s hacking away at the bread? She puts the bread on a baking sheet and drizzles the cubes with olive oil, salt and the thyme she was excited about. She also arranges bacon on a baking sheet and sticks it in the oven with the croutons at 400°F.

Giada purées the soup with an immersion blender. I like those a lot more now than I used to, especially since I don’t have a blender that I love.

Next up is Pirate Pasta. I’m guessing they’re not a let’s-leave-­at-4-am-type-of-family or Giada would have had to pull an all-nighter to get this ready.

She says she’s starting with a PIN KNEE. What? Oh, Penne. Okay. Giada cooks it for 8 to 10 minutes. Her grandma used to make this dish for her mother and her sisters when they went on road trips. Granny made up an elaborate story about how this was what pirates ate on their boats.

I guess this heavy-duty cooking before you go away is an Italian thing. I don’t want to dis a cultural tradition, but it seems a bit outmoded to me. (Listen, I like soup with bacon and croutons as much as the next person, but it seems a little weird if we’re just going up the road.)

Giada cooks mushrooms in olive oil with whole garlic cloves. (I would halve the garlic…and take out the middle stalk.). The best part about this is that Todd isn’t standing there yelling at her to get a move on. No road trip in my house is complete without that.

Giada adds Italian tuna. I did NOT see that coming. That’s a bit of a surprise. Italian canned tuna is awesome. It’s about as similar to canned white tuna in water as Kona coffee is to Sanka.

G adds green olives, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. She scoops out the cooked pasta from its pot and adds it to the pan. She sprinkles over basil and pecorino at the end.

Ahhh, they’ve arrived at their destination. We see a shot of Giada, Todd and Jade at Pelican Hill on a gorgeous outdoor patio with huge columns and high-end patio furniture. They’re surrounded by a huge green lawn. Maybe they’re in a bungalow.

NOW they’re at the beach with a huge bowl of pasta. They’re all eating out of the same bowl. I don’t mind if they share a bowl, but I wish they would serve themselves a portion and then eat out of THAT bowl, so they don’t scuzz up the entire pasta salad. Giada is being a lovely, darling mother and encouraging little Jade to eat all the little “treasures” in the pasta salad. (It’s not my experience that kids view green olives as treasures, but maybe it’s a DeLaurentiis thing.) Jade appears to agree with me as they cut away from that scene just as she’s getting antsy.

Next they’re at a lovely table, in lovely outfits, and Giada has served the cauliflower soup. I don’t get this. Are you really going to bring Tupperware to a fancy-schmancy resort and eat only what you brought with you?

In the end, I was right to query the premise of this show. It made absolutely
no sense. The recipes were fine, the scenery was striking, but they did not belong together on the same show.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

This is my standard shortcrust recipe. It will easily line a 9 inch pie shell. Be my guest and add lots of herbs to it like Giada did. Process them with the flour before you add the fat and water.

Shortcrust Pastry
Printable recipe here

6 oz. or 1 1/2 cups flour
3 oz. or 6 tbls. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 oz. or 2 tbls. shortening (Crisco…or lard, if you dare)
ice cold water

Place flour in food processor with steel blade. Pulse once. Add butter and shortening. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse (very coarse) oatmeal. Add ice cold water a tablespoon at a time. You’ll need between 2 and 3 tablespoons. Process just until dough comes together. Remove from processor. Knead just a few times until the dough is smooth. Form into a ball. Flatten it slightly.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I have always wanted to try making a pie with real lard. It's hard to find though. Most lard I see at the stores has some kind of hydorgenated fat in it.

That is weird about food on vacation. I know if I'm going to pack food for a trip, I take cold sutff that's easy to transport like sandwiches. I'm also on your team about eating out on vacation. Yes, it's cheaper to eat in, but dining out is one of the ways to experience the place you're staying.

I'm in the Giada camp too. When you're well-endowed, you might as well stick 'em in the camera. Although I often say I use my boobs to make up for my face. Giada doesn't have that problem.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

Alton Brown would have made a show with the same scenario and it would have "made sense" because it would have been some kind of extended joke or deliberate contrivance. (AB, come back!!! We miss you!!)

I normally don't do pie crusts, but you've got me thinking that with your tips, maybe I've got the inside track to being a crust master.

Anonymous said...

Wow -- lots going on here!

I find my crusts do better if I let them chill/rest before rolling out. They look a little more uniformly moist without overworking them and they don't break when I roll them. If you have a wine fridge, that's actually a great place to put them for a half hour -- they don't get overly chilled but the butter pieces stay firm.

All butter v. butter and shortening: I haven't made an all-butter crust in a while. Using cream cheese instead of shortening (mix it in completely with the flour and salt before adding the butter) gives you most of the flakiness and a nice flavor too. It works for nearly every pie. Still, I find that there are a couple of pies (like coconut cream or chocolate "pudding") where a butter and shortening crust actually tastes a little better so I use it there.

Probably more than you wanted to know, right?

Food on vacation: We would sometimes take food for the road when I was a kid, but pasta? Soup? More like sandwiches or peanut butter and crackers!

Sue said...

Rachel!!! Don’t you dare say that about your face!!! Your boob comment is fine, but not the one about your lovely face!

I agree that sandwiches are always good for a car ride, but I have NEVER made food in advance of going on vacation. THAT’S the reason I’m going on vacation – to avoid the kitchen. The whole thing was cur-razee.

Alton is definitely not my favorite, but you’re right. He does the far-fetched hypothetical scenario really well.

Please try that pie crust recipe with any quiche that you like. It’s goood!

I find exactly the opposite. I love rolling out pastry when it’s soft and then chilling it after I’ve lined the pie pan. I can’t stand battling with dough.

That is such an interesting idea about the cream cheese. How could that be bad? And, yeah, I’m sure it does add great flavor.

And, yup, road food is normal, but taking meals to eat on vacation is weird.

Emily said...

Yes, you're right. This episode didn't make any sense! Who would make all of that food and bring it to a fancy resort? Everyone eats out on vacation! This is so stupid.

Maybe she could have made some road trip snacks or something, and that would have been fine... popcorn, sandwiches, cookies, etc.

I'm going to use your pie crust tricks! Except the shortening. Teehee. I can't do it! I bet your pie crust is way better than mine though.

Emily said...

I'll have to try Tom's cream cheese trick! I like that.

Sue said...

And that was some fancy resort! You definitely wouldn't bring your own food there.

One day you're going to taste my Crisco-laced pie and you're going to like it!

Tom's idea IS awesome!