So I'm sitting at my local "Hair Cuttery" waiting for my daughter to get her annual shearing (and I fully recognize that is this a most unlikely start to a cooking blog), when I do what every good suburban mom does: I pick up People magazine to kill the time. Of course, I'm too much of an East Coast elitist to ever purchase or subscribe to People magazine, but gost darn it, I'll arm wrestle for it if I'm at the orthodontist, dentist, or doctor's office. I mean, how else will I catch up with Brad and Angie and their brood?
The beauty of People is that you don't have to read it cover-to-cover. You can just sort of let it fall open and read whatever fate has in store for you. The weekly insert of Parade works the same way. And so it was that I happened upon a recipe for broccoli and, um, Cheetos. At first my stomach lurched, and then I rolled my eyes (in that East Coast elitist sort of way) and disdainfully turned the page. But then I stopped. For God's sake, I'm writing a COOKING blog. This could be good. I mean even if it's dreadful, I can have a field day trashing it, and if it tastes good, I can eat elitist crow. At a minimum, my children will love me for bringing such exalted junk food as Cheetos into the house. I can already see delight in their eyes as they suck their orange-coated fingers. So I'm going to do it. I'm going to make this god-awful recipe and violate the one sacred principal of cooking which is to simply not make anything that either is, or sounds, utterly disgusting.
Broccoli & Cheetos (reprinted here without any permission whatsoever from People magazine, April 4, 2011, p. 118, from a recipe by a New York City chef . A New York chef? I'm eating elitist crow already. I would have bet money that this dish was developed by someone named Bobbie Sue or Bubba).
1. Heat the following in a 2-qt saucepan until reduced by half: 2 cups heavy cream, 2 Tbsp minced garlic, 2 Tbsp minced shallots, 6 whole black peppercorns, and one bay leaf. (Puh-lease. Two cups heavy cream? What a gimme. Even dog biscuits would taste good floating in two cups of heavy cream.)
2. Add in 1 and 1/2 cups of grated aged Gouda and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. (Oh yeah, and add gobs of cheese while you're at it.) Set aside and keep warm. (Because if this stuff gets cold, it will congeal into a brick).
3. Add 1 and 1/4 lbs of fresh broccoli florets to a large pot of salted boiling water, cook until al dente--about 3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a bowl of cold water, and pat dry.
4. Heat 3 Tbs of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes and 1 Tbs fresh garlic and cook until fragrant--about 1 minute.
5. Add broccoli florets; stir often until lightly browned; about 6 minutes. (Actually, steps 3, 4, and 5, by themselves, look quite promising).
6. Spoon cheese sauce among 6 warm serving bowls; top with broccoli, and sprinkle with "a generous sprinkling of crushed Cheetos." (Now here's a dilemma--puffed or crunchy? I could probably write an entire blog on that question alone, but I'll try them both.) Serve immediately (because if you don't the Cheetos will become a soggy mess of orange neon).
So. The moment of truth. What did it taste like?
It tasted exactly like it came from the pages of a magazine dedicated to the excesses of American culture. (Uh-oh; I sense an elitist tirade about to erupt). Just like the Superbowl halftime show with its aging rockers, fireworks, F-16 flyovers, and dancing nymphs sporting low cut glow-in-the-dark costumes, it was simply too much. Too much cream and too much cheese topped off with too much fake crunch. Broccoli and Cheetos is schlock on steroids--or saturated fat, as it were.
Given that it's 80% pure fat topped with a processed, high sodium, corn product, it should taste freaking AMAZING. It should be so good that when you die you'll want to come back to life as a Cheeto. But instead, it's just excessive for the sake of being excessive--like one of those 48 ounce steaks you can only get in Texas. I'm no ascetic. I love life's guilty pleasures. Godiva truffles? It's heaven wrapped in tinfoil. A 2007 Cass Viognier? I'll drink the bottle. Triple cream brie--on a spoon? (I never said binges were pretty). Sold. Broccoli with Cheetos? No way. It's doing to your body what People magazine is doing to your mind and for no good reason. Try it at your own risk. Or better yet, just eat it at the Hair Cuttery.