Sunday, October 30, 2011

Chopped: Cooking for the 21st Century Boomer

If you're a boomer (and you probably are if you're reading this), you certainly watch the Food Network, at least occasionally.  And if you watch the Food Network, you have probably seen the cooking contest program, Chopped.

(Digression:  How does this relate to Corners, a novel, you ask?  Answer:  Shelley was the deli girl, remember?  She created gourmet catered dishes out of her imagination from almost nothing when she was a school girl.  But then I am not Shelley - at least not entirely =)  Still, Shelley grew up to be a boomer, didn't she?  Hmmm.  Back to business.)

Chopped always features four real life, better-than-the-average-bear chefs competing against each other for $10,000.  Each week there is a winner, and sometimes, at the end of the season, they have a really big contest in which all of the weekly winners get together and cook their socks off really fast, cut themselves, drop boiling water, curse, throw down their aprons in displays of poor sportsmanship, and compete for a lot more than $10,000.  Now that's some good television.

In the course of these weekly rituals, the contestants are each given a basket with three or four "mystery ingredients."  These they must include in their dishes or be chopped, unless one of the other chef-testants really screws the pooch and produces a dish of such horror that it can barely be eaten.

These "mystery ingredients" may include such things as durian, which is a fetid foul smelling tropical fruit; quince, brains, chicken feet, jelly beans, and whatever else the producers dug out of the sofa cushions.  At the moment of tasting, the adventure comes in watching the judges approach the quivering morsels impaled on their forks as if they were eyeing a live possum at the end of an animal control stick.

There is an obvious application for the 21st Century boomer here.

As the housing market and the economy have gone SPLAT, we boomers just don't have the disposable income for fabulous gourmet cooking that we used to have in the 80's and 90's when we all learned to be foodies.  Instead, while struggling to pay the monthly note on our underwater-and-drowning homes, we are digging in the sofa cushions to find ingredients for our evening meal.  This is all while dreaming about the days when we used to moan and roll our eyes over gourmet take-out, or whip up a little butter and vanilla poached lobster tail or baby lamb chops rubbed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic.

We have a need to make our leftover lemon hard candies, year-old ground sage, and apple cider vinegar taste like Mario Batali prepared them right there in our own kitchen.

So last night, in the spirit of Chopped, I honored my pledge to spend not one thin dime off the budget and raided my pantry.  In it I found raspberry jam and about a half inch high of elderly crystallized balsamic vinegar.  In the fridge, I found a skinny WalMart chicken and bag of oranges from September, soft but still useful.  En garde.

The bird got marinated in the juice of all the oranges (they were actually pink inside, like grapefruits - I'm not sure why; maybe they were ossified grapefruits) along with a little chopped rosemary that grows by the front door, some sea salt and ground pepper; then basted with olive oil (giant tin can from Raley's - lasts forever and cheap) and a blend of the raspberry jam, balsamic, and some of the orange juice.  Next, roasted the whole thing, cut in quarters, in an aluminum baking pan at 375 for about 45 minutes (just kept checking the thigh joints till the juices ran clear).  Popped a couple of scrubbed potatoes in next to the pan, no foil, with a vent cut in the skins.

While it all hung out in the oven, I dug deep and found a can of refrigerator biscuits I had never used because I accidentally bought the ones flavored with honey.  Sauteed some slightly wilted broccoli florets in a fry pan with a little olive oil and a shake of garlic salt while the biscuits browned.

When I pulled out the bird, its juices, infused with sweet orange and rosemary, had risen about one third of the way up the pan and created an amazing simmer sauce - a little fatty, so I drained it - that left the bird succulent and redolent with chicken-ness.  The oil, raspberry, and vinegar had developed a fragrant, crackly skin, beguilingly golden and flecked with berry seeds and herbal bits.  Miraculously, everything hit the table at once.  And everything disappeared down to the last crispy potato skin, laden with sour cream and dripping with butter, in less than ten minutes.  Sigh.  All that, 1408, most of the family, and some Yellow Tail to wash it down.  Foodie heaven.

Boomer-ism is about making it happen and letting the sun shine in, come what may, is it not?  There's something about the chips being down that bring out the best in a boomer.  What's your experience today?  Are you up?  Are you down?  Have you turned that frown upside down?  Share, and if you have a favorite sofa cushion recipe, share that too.

1 comment:

  1. Way to go! I love how Chopped inspired you! It is a wonderful show- I find it amazing to see what the contestants whip up. I am not that great at whipping things up in the kitchen- but my boyfriend is fantastic at creating from odd ingredients. This comes in very handy when we are pinching pennies (which we usually are).

    Thanks for sharing- this is a tight week, so I will challenge him with a basket of my own creation. :)