I realize that I'm pretty late to the game when it comes to publicly lamenting Gourmet magazine's demise. It was, after all, many months ago that it was announced the august culinary publication would be shut down, and its last issue printed. I was not alone in my shock, disbelief, and genuine mourning for the magazine's premature end.
As part of my grief process, I followed my fellow mourners around the Web for a couple of weeks, reading articles, blog posts, forum discussions, and pretty much anything else I could find documenting this gastronomically historical event. And in doing so, I discovered something extremely disconcerting.
Gourmet magazine had quite the legion of detractors.
This was, to me, like finding out that a favorite aunt or uncle harbored the deep dark secret of receiving daily hate mail. What? There are people out there who dislike Gourmet? How can that be? And I admit that this is simplifying it a bit, but their primary complaints seemed to boil down to two things: One, that Gourmet had become irrelevant to their lives (excuse me? You've evolved past the whole cooking-and-eating thing?), and Two, that the magazine had too much brown food in it. Now, I don't really want to spend a lot of time thinking about what sorts of people make up the anti-Gourmet camp, but their criticisms of the magazine's food photography really got to me.
Too much brown food? What kind of an objection is that? Brown food is beautiful! Brown is the warmth of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and mace. Brown is the hominess of a good roast, and the exoticism of ethnic street food. It is the crisp lacy edges of a perfectly fried egg, the earthiness of tamari, the dreamy comfort of creme brulee. It is pretty much everything that comes out of a fryer. Brown is vanilla and coffee and chocolate and bacon. It is caramelized and toasted and perfectly seared. Good lord, of course the editors at Gourmet couldn't stay away from brown food! Brown is what I want to eat!
And, whether or not it was a recipe I felt driven to make, all the photographs in Gourmet were spectacular, in my view. The one time I was lucky enough to meet Ruth Reichl, in fact, I made a point of telling her how impressed I was with the evolution of the photography in the magazine, and how, for me, it elevated her publication above all the other food periodicals out there. I was a huge fan of the art department there, and so I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of other people taking issue with it.
I've been thinking about this controversy a lot recently, as I take more photos of our food and, when reviewing them, find that brown is a frequent theme. I really don't think of this as a negative, except for the challenge it presents to a hobbyist-photographer like me to capture the meal enticingly, rather than drably. Take roast chicken, for example. I make it a lot, since it's one of the easiest, almost-labor-free meals out there. Straight from the oven, I think its burnished skin is absolutely lovely, but I've had a hard time transferring that glowing sense of yum to a still image. And then there are all the meals we get out of the leftovers: chicken pot pie, chicken tossed into pasta, baked into a frittata, mixed into a summery lunch of chicken salad sandwiches. All brown. Hmm.
Even when we're not eating chicken in all its forms, we still put away a good deal of brown food. Just look around this blog! Cake, brownies, pies, breads . . . brown just seems to be what you get when you bake a lot. Not that I am complaining. Defending, is more like it. We love brown food and have the photos to prove it!
Still, I can understand the desire for some color, some pop. I mean, even I get a little tired of all the roasted and baked whatnots by the end of winter! (Which is why Easter dinner was such a welcome change.) So, with the coming of another growing season, I'm predicting that the images around here will start to feature a lot more greens, reds, and oranges. Heck, why don't we start now? Here are the kale chips I made last week:
This is a pre-oven-roasted shot, obviously. Kale chips taste great, but have a sort of shriveled, petrified appearance. Mine came out kind of ugly, to be honest. But here, with the light playing off their gloss of olive oil, and their edges all frills and ruffles, well, it's almost like they're dancing, isn't it? Which is a great way, I think, to enter any new season. But, just in case you're like me and believe that, no matter the season, Brown Is Where It's At, here's another brown recipe for you to file away.
Roast Chicken and Potato Frittata
Well, so this isn't so much a recipe as a template. We had it for dinner one night, and it was one of those throw-in-whatever-you've-got kind of dinners. And I didn't measure or time anything, so I can't give you precise instructions even if I wanted to. But that's the great thing about frittatas - once you understand the basic concept, you can customize it infinitely and never really have a bad one. Here's the rundown of what I did:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Scrub, dry, and cut into cubes two large potatoes. Using equal parts unsalted butter and olive oil, cook the potatoes over medium heat in a preheated 12-inch cast iron skillet, as for home fries. Season with kosher salt. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together 6-8 eggs, depending on how hungry you are and how many people you're feeding. Season with salt and pepper. Cut/shred some leftover roast chicken (one breast was enough for us). Look in the fridge to see what else you have that would be good in there (I found caramelized onions and fresh thyme). When the potatoes are nicely browned (there's that word again!), add the chicken, onions, herbs, and whatever else you want. Toss it all around, then spread it evenly in the pan. Turn the heat down to low, pour the eggs over it, and cook like you're making an omelet or scrambled eggs. (So move everything around, but gently, creating pillowy mounds of set egg around which the still-liquid egg can cuddle up to.) When about 3/4 of the egg mixture is set, slide the pan into the oven to finish cooking. It's done when it's set, puffed up, and a very pretty golden brown (of course!). Serve warm or at room temperature.