Monday, February 23, 2009

Playing Catch-Up

Well hello there. I have a question for anyone who might be reading this who has a food blog of their own: how do you decide if something is blog-worthy? Does a dish have to come out perfectly? Do you make it multiple times before posting? Would you post it with less-than-stellar pictures? What if it's a simple dish that other people have done better? Or something you threw together that came out really well, but you don't have a real recipe for?

These are questions I've struggled with a lot recently, and this struggle largely explains why I've posted so sporadically in this blog. I cook dinner all the time but so much of it just seems un-blog-worthy for one reason or another. Even when the food is good, either the pictures are off, or the recipe is not remotely fleshed out... it's so rare that everything comes together for me. Some examples:

  • Sweet potato gnocchi
    These represented my first attempt at gnocchi, and I made things harder for myself by adding sweet potatoes. I started by roasting 2 lbs of potatoes, of which about 2/3 were sweet and 1/3 were Yukon Gold. Then I mashed them, added flour, a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg, and rolled them into ropes. (Ha! Sounds so easy now... the flouring and rolling took forever, and made a HUGE mess.) They went into the fridge for about half an hour, at which point I rolled them on the back of a fork. Half of them went into the freezer and the other half went into a pot of boiling water, and then into a saucepan with sage and brown butter. I finished them with a dusting of parmesean cheese, and then I dove in, and they were... respectable.

    But I don't know if I'd call them "good." I looked at this as a learning experience, and I definitely learned, but I also came out with gnocchi that were just a little leaden in the middle. Like David Lebovitz, I found that brown butter and sage went a long way towards making the gnocchi enjoyable, and like him, I would say that my final result was a success. Next time, however, I think I'll go back a step and try the plain potato version, or maybe ricotta gnocchi, which don't even need to be rolled all fancy-like.

  • Greeny-green Tortellini and Kale

    I've made that kale on toast dish quite a few times since I originoally posted it, but with a bunch of kale nearing the end of its shelf life and no bread in the house, I needed something else to do with it. I decided to make a very rough pasta sauce by sauteing it with some onions and garlic in olive oil, and finishing it off with fresh parsley, lemon juice, and parmesean. The "sauce" was almost done before I pulled a bag of tortellini out of the freezer - I forgot that all I had was spinach tortellini, and suddenly my dish turned very monochromatic. Anyway, it was pretty good, but I didn't take detailed notes, and it wasn't extraordinary, so the picture languished and I never mentioned it.

  • Winter Salad with Roasted Cippollini Onions

    This salad was inspired by a winter salad I had at Blue Smoke during restaurant week. I ordered the salad as an afterthought, thinking that it would be nice and light in contrast with the BBQ ribs I ordered for the main course. But the salad itself was something of a revelation. It was listed as having arugula, kohlrabi, and some other stuff I didn't remember, and there were these delicious little half-orbs of... something. I couldn't figure it out - they were bright white, about the size and shape of a large grape cut in half, and they were so sweet I thought they must be some sort of exotic fruit. Yet they were also layered, like onions. Mystical sweet onion fruit, maybe?

    We got our menus back to order dessert and I saw the third ingredient of the salad was in fact onions - cippollinis to be exact. I asked the waitress how the onions were prepared and she said they were roasted in their skins. Such an interesting idea - it would explain the concentrated sweetness, and also the complete lack of browning.

    So I decided to try and recreate the salad myself. I found some red cippollinis at the Greenmarket, but I couldn't find kohlrabi at either the market or at Whole Foods, which derailed my plans a bit. Instead I bought a parsnip, which I cut into batons and roasted with melted butter and honey (with some inspiration from Thomas Keller. I wasn't really sure what to do with the onions so I just tossed them with some olive oil and salt and roasted them at 350F until they started to explode out of their skins.

    I let the onions cool, then I peeled them and cut them in half and assembled my salad - baby arugula, the roasted parsnips, the onions, and some sprouts. To imitate Blue Smoke's dressing, a "habenero-lime vinaigrette," I used lime juice, lime zest, white wine vinegar, olive oil, and a few drops of hot sauce. The dressing was fantastic and I will definitely make it again.

    But the salad? It wasn't as good as Blue Smoke's, and the time and effort involved to roast 2 vegetables and peel all those little onions was not really worth it for the payoff. I think part of the greatness of the original lies in the contrast between the crisp, raw kohlrabi and the sweet onions; my parsnips were sweeter than the kohlrabi, and my onions never got as meltingly sweet and un-sharp as I hoped, so there was less contrast between the different elements of my salad. Don't get me wrong, it was one of the most composed salads I've ever made, and it was very good, but I don't really see myself making this one again.

Hah, wow, I thought I'd say a few words about each of these dishes, I had no idea this post would get so... long. But to go back to my original point, I'm not sure any of these dishes deserved their own blog posts. How do you make the decision?


Maris said...

If you think it deserves a blog post, then it does! Sometimes the photo will make the final decision for me.

Joanna said...

Haha, I guess that's true, I should just go with my instincts! And that salad probably should have gotten its own post based on the pictures alone - my crappy old camera decided to focus well, for once, and amazingly enough it was on something bright and colorful. I was just disappointed because it took so long to make that I expected to be blown away, and... I wasn't. Maybe some "wrap-up" posts like this one are a good idea to sort of clear out the cache every once in a while.

Anonymous said...

For me, a meal is blog-worthy if I got a good photo of it. To a lesser extent is if I wrote a recipe for it, though in most cases I can normally think back to what I did.

There are exceptions, though. I'm currently writing a post for a failed quiche I made over the weekend, which looks like crap but (a) took me an afternoon to make; and (b) I learned from it. My favourite food blogs are the ones that talk though making food with a lot of explanations of why things are done and why things work out/don't work out. That's something I want to start doing more on my blog (along with posting, hah) so people can learn from my mistakes.

I like entries like this, I think any lesson learned (even if it's what not to do) is worth blogging.

PS, sweet potato gnocchi are a pain in the arse. In fact the first entry on my blog is about failing at sweet potato gnocchi.