Friday, June 22, 2012

Giada Flies A Kite, More About Egg Whites And I Never Realized How Much I Hate Artichoke Hearts, Except Sometimes

Giada At Home with Giada De Laurentiis

I finally watched last week’s Giada. Tomorrow she tells us about planning a meal for the royal couple (after their wedding) when they visited California. Forget the menu, I just want to know how she picked what to wear.

Anyway, at the beginning of last week’s show, you know how Giada gives us a silken-voiced rundown of the menu?  Well, as she was describing it, I objected to at least one ingredient in every single dish. Why did her “Gruyere And Spinach Bakes” need a hunk of bread in them? And I love orzo salad…with pesto even better, but why ARTICHOKE pesto? And finally, I don’t need no strawberries IN my meringues. WITH them, fine. SPOONED into a meringue basket, even better, but IN the meringue itself. Weird.

Giada and Todd are taking little Jade to fly a kite on the beach. (Jade is quite beautiful and adorable. I still love that her name is a variation of Giada’s. That is SO sweet.) Giada wants to make a picnic for the outing, which can be easily transported to and eaten on the beach.

She starts with the previously objected to Strawberry Meringues. Immediately, Giada gets off on the wrong foot. She adds salt, saying it counters the sweetness of the sugar. Of all the millions of reasons I’ve heard for adding salt (usually people say it stabilizes the meringue) THAT one was a first. Almost everyone in the world says to add salt, but Rose Levy Beranbaum says not to, so I go with her. I don’t actually add salt to any sweet stuff, which NO ONE agrees with, but I was born this way.  

Anyway, Giada’s other meringue transgression is a common one. She uses a glass bowl to beat her egg whites. She did have a stunning (and pristine white) KitchenAid, which matched the stunning white-only flower arrangement on the countertop.

Now, I’m not going to fault someone who has ONE KitchenAid and it happened to come with a glass bowl instead of a stainless steel one. BUT Giada could have chosen any machine on the planet.

I get more and more anxious as I see the egg whites falling down the slippery sides of the bowl back onto themselves, instead of steadily increasing in height. Is it fatal to use glass? No. But you absolutely positively will not get the same volume in a glass bowl as you will in a stainless steel one.

Once in your life, at least, you have to know the elation of beating eggs in a copper bowl. It’s tough and requires some muscle (well, endurance at least), but those egg whites are beauteous. Plus it’s pretty hard to overbeat egg whites when you’re doing it by hand. Actually, that’s not an issue here, because in addition to adding salt (bad), Giada also adds cream of tartar (good). That allows the egg whites NOT to be overbeaten and so it’s a great addition when using a stand mixer particularly. (Don’t add cream of tartar when using a copper bowl to beat whites. Also don’t add it if you’re not cooking the egg whites.)

So…..Giada gets her meringues beaten, although not as high and fluffy as I would have liked and then she adds some lemon zest! Really? In all my millions of times making meringue, I NEVER thought of adding lemon zest. What a superb idea! I’m thinking about the countless meringue baskets I’ve made with lemon curd filling (SO good) and how wonderful it would have been to have added lemon zest to those meringues. OY! How could I not have thought of that?!! BTW, she says that lemon JUICE would have deflated the whites.

Then Giada talks about adding strawberries. She says that fresh strawberries would weigh the meringues down and discolor them, so she adds freeze-dried strawberries. My word! Who would have thunk of that? In principle, it makes sense, but I still don’t need my meringues littered with dried strawberries.  I get that the texture would match the chewy inside of the meringue, but leave my meringue alone. Adding nuts, cocoa, even making them with brown sugar? Great. But fruit belongs on the outside of a meringue.

Notwithstanding the fact that I don’t like what’s IN the meringues, I’m super–impressed with how she gets them on the baking sheet. Giada uses an ice cream scoop to place mounds of the meringue mixture on the baking sheet. Really? How ingenious!

I have 3 sizes of ice cream scoops - for shaping everything from cookies; sweet breads like banana bread, especially in mini loaf tins; ice cream or sorbet; meat balls; chocolate truffles…but I have never ever used them for meringues. A piping bag is my usual weapon of choice. I like this idea A LOT, especially for the shape she’s making, which is kind of dome-like.

Giada uses parchment paper to line her baking sheets. I always bake meringues on foil, because it’s easier to take them off even if there’s some weeping. Sometimes they stick to the parchment. Giada bakes the meringues at 200°F for two hours and then lets them sit in a turned-off oven to cool completely.

We see the finished meringue clouds. They look amazing. I’m sure they’re perfectly crisp with all that long slow baking. Even the strawberry bits look good, but I’m still leaving them out.

She grates gruyere (by hand) for the “Spinach Bakes”, which seem like little quiches without the crust. Actually, they’re just like savory bread puddings, so I guess the bread ISN’T out of place.

Giada sautés 2 ounces of pan-chitta and cools it down a bit. She slices two (enormous) shallots and sautés them in some olive oil. Next she whisks 6 room temperature eggs with ¼ cup of whole milk plus some salt and pepper. She adds the cheese and 2 (huge) slices of country bread, which have been cubed. 2 cups of chopped baby spinach go into the custard with the shallots and the pan-chitta. (Interesting that she doesn’t blanch the spinach first.)

She fills four 10 ounce oiled ramekins with the mixture and bakes them at 400°F for 25 minutes. I would be tempted to make these in mini muffin pans, in which case, you’d really have to make sure you cubed the bread small.

Through magic, we see the ramekins as they’re baking. Gosh, they look awesome. Crispy, crusty, turning a gorgeous brown and bubbling with the cheese, studded with little pieces of pan-chitta, they look beautiful. She unmolds them.

For the last dish, Giada grills corn for the orzo salad. She coats the corn with oil and heavily grills it on top of the stove.

Giada cooks the orzo in heavily salted water. She adds some frozen and thawed artichoke hearts to the food processor.

Hold it a second. I really do like just about everything (well, not tarragon and not oranges with chocolate), but artichoke hearts - except from a fresh artichoke -  just do not do it for me.

I don’t want to insult anyone’s hot artichoke dip, but to me it’s just an excuse to eat glop on a chunk of bread. Forget the artichokes and I’ll just eat the mayo or pimento cheese, or cream cheese or whatever else goes into it by itself.

Anyway, Giada’s plan is to make pesto from artichoke hearts. C’mon, really, truly, does anyone really like that? It’s funny because there’s nothing better (okay, that’s NOT true, but you know what I mean) than a fresh artichoke heart, dipped in melted butter. Mmmm.  Let’s just let the artichoke BE the artichoke. 

Giada adds ½ cup of toasted walnuts, ½ cup of the most gorgeous parsley you’ve ever seen, fresh oregano (Ina thinks it’s too strong to be used fresh), lemon zest and juice. Giada doesn’t say this but you need the lemon juice to prevent the artichoke hearts from turning unattractively brown. She also adds garlic, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil to the food processor. Giada whirls it around and tastes it for seasoning and pretends to really like it. It looks so grey and unappetizing. The color of normal pesto (without artichokes) is one of its strong suites. It’s vibrant and fresh and green. THIS is not THAT.

Giada uses a big oval scooper to drain the orzo. I know she has a cookware line to promote, but this scooper is really better for larger pasta pieces. Is she REALLY going to stand there and scoop out every grain of orzo from the hot steaming pot, when she could just drain the whole thing in 3 seconds?

Giada says it’s okay to have some of the pasta water sticking to the orzo (and she won’t be able to help that – the way she’s draining it), but is this really a dish that requires pasta water like many sauced ones do? I guess I shouldn’t care that so much orzo could be left in the bottom of the pot. The less orzo that gets bathed in that greyish green mess the better. I had no idea how much I hated artichoke hearts used this way until now.

Giada scoops the nasty looking pesto onto the orzo and stirs it with a kind of gushy, mushy sound. Then she chops up a few leftover grey artichoke  hearts and adds those to the salad along with the grilled corn kernels, which have been cut from the core. She adds halved cherry tomatoes to “bring the salad to life”. (Something needs to.) Giada adds lots of grated cheese. She tastes it and says “heaven”. I don’t buy it.

By the way, if you want an amazing orzo dish that is one of the BEST DISHES IN THE WORLD (and not just the best ORZO dish, but one of the best dishes of ANY KIND) look here.

Giada and Todd go to the beach with little Jade. They run after her while Jade flies a beautiful butterfly kite. What a cute kid. They like the gruyere thingies. Todd says the orzo is excellent. They do cheers with the meringue clouds. Jade seems to have a problem biting into the meringues, but Giada shares her bitten-off one with her little girl. Sweet and 2 out of 3 dishes ain’t bad. Just forget those strawberry bits.

OH, I just remembered a million ways that I DO love artichokes. Usually in any dish where they’re called alcachofas, which means they’ll be cooked in a wonderful Spanish style. They'll often be fried in olive oil and garlic with a little jamon and served piping hot. They might be baby artichokes that are halved lengthwise with the stem still on, so there’s a long tender, sweet stem leading to a crunchy crispy flower end. REALLY good.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

This is my weird quirk about artichokes. I don't like the fresh ones. I always despised artichoke hearts, but I went through a period where I gave them a try. In the end, I didn't like them much more - except for in sandwiches. I like a good Italian wedge filled with meat, cheese, artichoke hearts, and roasted peppers. I like the dip too I must confess. To me spinach and artichoke dip tastes better than most common dips and I feel less guilty because it has vegetables in it. ;-)

I see where Giada was going with the meringues. She wasn't making pavlovas here. She was going on a picnic and wanted cookies. She made meringue cookies that were flavored with strawberries and not with the more typical chocolate or vanilla. Meringue baskets with fresh strawberries would be very awkward on a beach picnic. I'd be willing to give them a try.

As the lemon zest, is there anything Giada doesn't put lemon zest in? I think she's incapable of cooking without it. If all of the world's lemon crops failed, she would be out of business!

Sue said...

WHAT??? You have to give FRESH artichokes another try. Oh, you made me think of another way I like them. In the jars with loads of olive oil - those are good.

You know, I think you're right about the meringues. If she had used freeze-dried raspberries, I might have been with her.

That's true about lemon zest, the Contessa uses tons too. One of my New Year's resolutions a few years ago was not to let lemons go rotten in my fridge, but to freeze the juice. I guess I should add to use up the zest too.

Sheila said...

She does use lemon zest in EVERYTHING!

I know how you feel about silpats... but tell me - could you pipe a meringue onto a silpat?

Sue said...

Hi Sheila!
Lemon zest is great, but I always forget to wash my lemons and then give them enough time to dry.

Yes, go for it and use your silpat for meringues. They'll come off beautifully.

Anonymous said...

I got into the habit of washing my lemons and limes when I get them home, along with some other fruits and vegetables. That way I can use the zest right away. If I don't use it soon I often end up taking it off in strips with a vegetable peeler and then freezing those -- if I'm using them in baking I can pulverize them with some of the sugar in the recipe.

I'm with you on the artichokes, Sue -- although I do like a couple of brands of marinated hearts in jaws to eat as-is. I also admit to liking to roast the frozen ones along with a chicken (with carrots and onion too).

Sue said...

You know what, Tom?
I'm going to resolve to do that every time I buy any citrus fruits. I think it will make me a better person. (Thank you, Sheila, for making me face this issue.)

I guess roasting the frozen artichoke hearts would be better than puréeing them and serving them in all their greyness. But roasting the yummy jarred ones is an even better idea.