the duds of summer

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This is me admitting defeat. You see, all summer I have been discussing this “queue” of recipes that I have auditioned and photographed, but never told you about. They’ve sat on my hard drive like a to-do list, taunting me, certain that I’ll never get to the bottom of it. Every time I swear I am going to bang them all out in a week of daily, brief posts, something better comes across our counters and I must discuss that first. Like bourbon peach hand pies. Or a dimply plum cake. You understand, don’t you?

The queue won’t go away and summer is more or less over, which means that it’s time for me to admit that the things left in the queue aren’t that great. Oh, they’re not bad. They’re not inedible. We did clear our plates, though certainly not the leftovers out of the fridge the next day. They’re just not wonderful or magical or seriously, why have you not dropped everything yet and run to your kitchen to get this started. And I think that there are enough recipes out there, and in here, that are show stoppers that it’s not necessary to make ones that drew a big “eh!” from our mouths.

So, in the interest of me zeroing out my blogging-to-do list once and for all, let us get this show on the road:

Sara Jenkins Potato Salad: [Recipe] Okay, maybe this recipe I culled from New York Magazine a couple months ago wasn’t a total dud. Perhaps if I had found NY 188′s new potatoes from Keith’s Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket that weekend (and oh, I looked, but I did not find, either the stand or the red cuties) I might have enjoyed it more, but you know, it was just okay. I hate the way oil-based potato salads just absorb and absorb, and you’re left with something rather dry and dressing-less. It needed a lot of seasoning.

Verdict: Next time, I’ll make this new potato dish instead.

Asparagus Pignoli Pasta: Well, now, this wasn’t a dud either. One night, I boiled some whole wheat pasta and in a separate pan, cooked garlic in olive oil with a pinch of red pepper flakes before tossing in exactingly mandoline-d cross-sections of asparagus. They cooked in just a few minutes with a few splashes of pasta water and seasoning and I finished the dish with toasted pine nuts and parmesan. It was great. But I kept meaning to get back to the recipe and try to thinly slice the asparagus the long way, and well, asparagus season has long passed.

Verdict: Tasty, but needs tweaking. Perhaps next year, or perhaps one of you closer to an asparagus-producing season will pick this up where I left off.

Italian Bread Salad: [Recipe] You know, I love a good bread salad. I’ve made summer and winter and spring panzanellas and even a “gazpacho” salad with toasted bread cubes in it, so it’s no surprise that I’d be all over a new, green and simple one in the June Gourmet. Except, it tasted very very green. Too green. And I didn’t even use all of the herbs it suggested. I think herbs are best when used as a contrast or accent, not as the bulk and texture of a dish. (Though I make small exceptions for pestos and pistous.)

Verdict: FAIL. We can do better!

Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Arugula and Sweet Bell Peppers: [Recipe] I was very excited to see the New York Times write up Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s $40 menu-less, family-style restaurant in Napa, because we had the chance to go there on our grilling trip last year and it was great. I was so excited that I immediately set out to make the black mushroom dish attached to the article. Except, well, a few things. First, I told Alex to look for them at the store but if they were crazy expensive to please not buy them, or simply to buy half and we’d just make part of the recipe. Well, they were so astronomically expensive, I can’t even discuss it here, and of course he bought the whole pound. Insert my longstanding guilt over wasting money and food, compounded with tiny uncomfortable fact: As it turns out, sauteed black mushrooms ick me out. The recipe doesn’t taste bad at all. But a pile of squidgy black wetness? Ugh. It’s been months and my stomach still turns. I couldn’t even eat my small plate of them, nonetheless the leftovers.

Verdict: Shame on me. With any other mushroom, however, this could have been love.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Pasta Salad: [Recipe] I could write a book on how torn I am about this recipe and heck, nearly every recipe published by Mark Bittman but, oh, it would be the most boring book ever. I was going through the photos for this dish yesterday and my stomach started grumbling. Baked tomatoes, stringy cheese, charred-edged pasta and capers… what was wrong with it again? And then I remembered: Nothing specific. I mean, I had way too much tomato filling and found some of the steps sort of odd (I ad-libbed half the cheese on top instead of all inside–who wouldn’t?), but other than that, it was harmless. It just didn’t wow me. Somehow, all of those ingredients came together to make something kind of dull.

Verdict: You probably won’t hate this recipe. It’s not even bad. But have you seen Luisa’s cousin’s stuffed tomatoes? Now that’s what I’m talking about.


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