Reality chars foodie's gourmet intentions

A few weeks ago I stood in bed-headed splendor in the wee hours of the morning, wearing a Wonder Woman apron over my pajamas, and flopped a 17-pound brisket on my smoker grill.

It was to be the main course for my son and daughter-in-law's wedding rehearsal dinner that night. My head danced with visions of 30-plus diners feasting on thick slices of tender beef — all enjoying themselves with eyes rolled back and making yummy sounds.

Hunka Burnin' Hubby and I tended that meat for 12 hours. But when we cut it up, that 17-pound brisket coughed up eight-pounds of edible beef.

My happy visions heaved into raw panic, and the menu immediately morphed into shredded beef sandwiches, served on thick buns and swimming in portion-stretching barbecue sauce.
Note to self: A 17-pound brisket is capable of harboring nine pounds of fat.

I'm a wanna be gourmet cook with a cast iron frame of mind. My intentions are fed by a vast collection of cookbooks and culinary gadgets. I have taken a litany of cooking classes, too, which have taught me enough to muddle through some pretty complicated recipes.

I read daily foo foo food blogs that claim life would be richer with asparagus and ricotta toasts, paired with a sparkling custom cocktail and chocolate orange cheesecake. I devour every written morsel, making menus and grocery lists until reality clocks me between the eyes.

Real people don't cook that stuff, at least those with a life outside the kitchen. Most cooking shows, foodie blogs and websites are the culinary equivalent of fashion magazines. They fill us with notions that cool cooks serve aracini with spring peas and hand-made mozzarella. I had never even heard of aracini until research revealed it as a fancy name for rice balls. "Rice balls with peas and cheese" doesn't sound as intriguing, I suppose.

I have as much chance of creating hoisin-lacquered roast chicken served with charred Chilean eggplant, as I have of squeezing my stew-sized backside into a size two pair of jeans. But pie-in-the-sky recipes push me to reach beyond my standard grilled cheese fare, so I try them whenever I can.

Once I attempted to grill pineapple slices on a grate that was in desperate need of cleaning. I learned in short order that sugary fruit slapped on a greasy grill creates a flame that rivals the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. I'm lucky to have come away with both eyebrows intact. What does a pineapple-destroying griller do in situations like that? She fibs her bum off, serving that pineapple with a glass of wine and a dose of attitude.

"Grilled pineapple is meant to look like that!" I tell my guests as they stare at the black pile of schmutz on their plates. "It's gourmet!"

I'm convinced that most gourmet recipes were born from culinary boo boos, served with fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants flair. "The eggs are supposed to be green," a nervous chef might declare to his stiff-upper-lip clients. "They're gourmet!"

Cooking takes attitude and the ability to roll with the peaches — literally. My friends discovered that the hard way when I fed them rustic spiced peach tart with almond pastry a few days ago. It was a recipe I'd made previously with great success, sporting enough flavor to swoon a person right off his chair. This time, however, the grocery store produce department was less than generous.

"The peaches are a little hard," my friends said (insert granola-caliber crunching here), "but it's still pretty good."

Note to self: Rustic spiced peach tart with almond pastry requires fruit on the far right side of ripe.

Have a tasty week, everyone!

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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