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That chicken that I told you I buy every couple of weeks or so goes a long way. We bought a beautiful, free-range, organic bird last Sunday. On Monday I took it out to pieces, let the legs and breasts sit and marinate in the ice-box, and from the rest I made a big pot of broth.
On Tuesday, we devoured the chicken meat from the broth in the form of my Grain Medley & Chinese Flavored Chicken with Bok Choy. I used part of the broth to braise a cauliflower and the legs for our dinner on Wednesday. There was no need for starch, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes, no nuthin’. This simple, easy, inexpensive, light meal was all we needed and then some.
There were still two chicken boobies sitting on a shelf in our refrigerator last night, soaking themselves joyously in olive oil infused with garlic and thyme. Ah, chicken, more chicken, I sighed and heard Ina Garten’s voice in my head: JEFFREY LOVES CHICKEN, SO EVERY FRIDAY I MAKE HIM A ROASTED CHICKEN. BUT FRANKLY, I’M SLOWLY GETTING SICK OF IT. I am obviously paraphrasing Ina’s words, but chicken has always been big on her menu due to her husband’s love affair with poultry. I know it all, because I used to watch “Barefoot Contessa” on Food Network all the time. And then I got sick of it, too.
There’s no denying it, I also love keeping my man happy, hence I decided to make Jason’s favorite type of dinner–one he can build himself. There’s nothing that brings that boyish and exuberant joy to his face faster than a plate full of scrumptiousness he has assembled himself.
And so I sliced and sautéed onions, one red bell pepper, green sweet pepper and one more Anaheim pepper. The chicken breast roasted in the oven for about 25 minutes at 375°, after which I let it rest covered with a sheet of aluminum foil for another 10. When I finally cut into it, I heard a choir of fairies covering Wet Wet Wet’s hit song “Love Is All Around”, you know the theme song from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” with Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell.
(There was a time in my long life when I would listen to that song OBSESSIVELY. I hope you’ll appreciate my honesty knowing I’m risking getting a restraining order from my boyfriend, who, I can just see, will cringe in pain and gag when reading this. I WAS FIFTEEN AND BELIEVED IN SANTA BACK THEN, TOO.)
The meat was so incredibly moist and silky, I wanted to put it all in my mouth and run. But then I had a drooling man looking over my shoulder also wanting a piece of it. We set the table with whatever we found suitable for CHICKEN FAJITAS in our pantry and refrigerator: sour cream, Green Chili Sauce, a bowl of brown rice, little green salad dressed with cilantro, heated tortillas and the guest of honor–ROASTED CHICKEN WITH AN ENTOURAGE OF SAUTÉED VEGETABLES.
I wish I had taken a photo of Jason when he sat down to the table and began the construction. The only time a smile was amiss from his face was when his mouth opened to receive another ginormous bite of his fajita stuffed with goods. Then there was lots of excited bouncing on the chair and head swinging when the jaws were busy molding the food. In fact, if that were a twelve year old boy who just got his first Star Wars toy that would later turn into a significant collection, and not a thirty-six year old respected TV producer, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
At that point I no longer needed food. The mere sight of that free expression of bliss was more satiating to me than the actual meal. Don’t get me wrong, though. I got my share of that chicken last night as well. It was glorious!
Naked patches of dirt around our house, where there used to grow juicy grass, signaled it was time to get off our meatless diet. Last Sunday marked the monthniversary of our eating only combinations of a veg with another veg over a bowl of grain of some kind.
To celebrate, we invited a few friends over, all foodies, for a potluck dinner. Everybody brought a dish of their own making. Our dining table, barely standing straight under the weight of all the goods, bravely held on its head a giant casserole of Risotto, a glass bowl of Short Ribs with Wild Mushrooms (from Poland!), a tray of Armenian mini Pizzas and Pastry Rolls filled with Cheese. There was Shrimp Ceviche, mean Brussels Sprouts with Pine nuts, another dish of Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, Sauteed Zucchini with Mint Butter, and some Simple Green Salad for common sense. The menu was only complete with a platter the size of the Columbus Circle in New York City filled with THAI LAMB LARB of my creation. Here’s the satellite shot, for it were the only way to capture it whole:
I found the recipe for this colorful appetizer in my recently purchased book “Small Bites” by Jennifer Joyce. As the author explains, “larb” describes ground meat in Thai. She used pork for her dish, however I went with lamb. Shockingly, that’s pretty much the only change I applied to the recipe. (Yes, Mama Linda, for once I followed the instructions!)
Before I list all the ingredients, let me just say that if I were to ever make this again (as hardly ever do I repeat myself on a plate), I’d use BIBB LETTUCE instead of Romaine. The latter seems muscular enough to hold the filling, however its leaves are long and straight-ish. Bibb lettuce not only has a kick-ass name but also its leaves create small and sturdy cups that I imagine would be more practical with this dish.
Having said that, let’s rock & roll. Get yourself the following items:
- 3 stalks lemongrass
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used coconut)
- 1 lb lean ground pork (lamb worked!)
- 1 tbsp soft brown sugar (raw cane variety was just as good)
- 1 sm red onion, finely diced
- 1 ripe but firm mango, diced
- 3 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, some chopped and some picked leaves for garnish
- 20 heart of Romaine lettuce leaves, chilled to serve (mark my words. I say BIBB!)
Remove the hard parts of the lemon grass and finely chop only the white, soft insides. Toss it into a saute pan with heated oil and stir fry it till soft over medium heat. Now get the fire going and add your larb. Cook it until crispy and brown. Remove from the heat when fully cooked (5 minutes or so), and set aside.
Quickly whip out a DRESSING using the following:
- 3 tbsp palm sugar (again, raw cane rocked!)
- 1 sm red chili pepper, deseeded and finely chopped (wahs your hands THOROUGHLY afterwards and under no circumstances touch your eyes, or nuts if a boy, with those fingers. Trust me!)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tbsp fish sauce.
If you own a mortar and pestle, use it to crush the sugar, pepper, garlic and ginger together until they turn into a paste. Add the lime juice and fish sauce and mix together. In case you didn’t have the ancient tool, simply toss everything into a small jar, close it tight and shake like a mad person until sugar’s dissolved and all the guys inside are seriously dizzy, but happy.
Pour the dressing over the still warm meat, add your onion, mango, and cilantro, toss about and scoop some of the filling onto the prepared lettuce leaves. Done!
The dinner, just like a Thai wedding, went on for days. Or at least it felt like it, especially when we collected all the empty wine bottles in the end.
Jason’s and my celebration of meat went on into the week, and was culminated with our last night’s visit at ANIMAL. This LA restaurant has earned its reputation with the rich meat dishes it serves. It was also featured in various culinary magazines as well as the Food Network, or else known as my televised bible. Can you imagine a better place to PIG OUT? Literally.
We started with a few appetizers to share:
1. Carrot Salad with Parsnip Chips, Green Goddess Dressing and Avocado
2. Hamachi Tostada with Herbs, Fish Sauce Vinaigrette and Peanuts
3. Lamb Meatballs over Golden Rice with Green Garbanzos & Creme Fraiche.
Everything was phenomenal, but the meatballs just blew our minds. It sounds almost like an oxymoron, but those meaty balls were fluffy, almost airy, so light and delicate. Amazing!
Then the Entrees arrived. Jason ordered Catfish with Gold Rice Succotash, drizzled with Tabasco Butter and topped with King Crab. Every bite melted in his mouth. I can verify it was true, for I have sunk my fork into his plate for examination.
My main course was quite different. I asked for Crispy Rabbit Legs with Peas, Dandelion and Meyer Lemon Aioli. The meat just fell off the bone upon the slightest touch of my utensil. It was cooked to perfection and the flavors did not disappoint. HOWEVER. Yes, there is a “however”. For my liking, the meal was too heavy. There was so much sauce poured all over the meat you could hardly see the Guest of Honor peeking through it. The rabbit, that pour bastard, was DEEP FRIED, I guess the best method for that crisp texture. It’s not the kind of food I enjoy on weekdays, or even a weekend.
The feast did not end there, oh no! We had to try their famous dessert of Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar dressed with Anglaise. While their Panna Cotta did not kick flip-flops off my feet, and one taste was enough, I could hardly stop myself from stealing the chocolaty bites finished with bacon bits from Jason’s plate. Bacon was written all over that bar, but also it was married to rich and velvety chocolate, and it was a Holy Union I tell you. Alleluia.
After sampling their food it was clear to us why the two chefs from Florida, who created the restaurant, called it ANIMAL. The food was superb, and it stood for its name, but when the dinner was over I considered another meatless month, just for a moment.
And then I found a leftover patch of grass behind our garage.
Did someone slip something into my coffee yesterday morning? Or even earlier, in my sleep, was I powdered with magic dust over my dreamy eyes? From the moment I pulled one leg out of bed, the other one just jumped. From then on I was just bouncing around the house like an energizer bunny on crack. And I will acknowledge that I really don’t know what I’m talking about here, as whenever I see any drugs (crack, marihuana, ibuprofen, aleve) heading in my direction, I spin around on the ball of my foot and… sayonara! Gone, I am. Still, I was clearly high on something when I entered the kitchen soon after noon that day. I didn’t leave until 6 PM, thus sacrificing the playtime with Cosmo and completely ignoring any of my own physiological needs. What happened in between the 1200 hour and 1800 hour is a mystery, which nonetheless resulted in the birth of the following:
- Pita Chips with Gruyere and Paprika
- Zucchini Chips
- And last but not least – Romesco Sauce.
A sample of each and every delicacy landed on the dinner plate I assembled for Jason last night. He devoured the meal with such passion, the temperature in our freezing house (the furnace is kaput, to be fixed any day now) rose by 17 degrees. Celsius!
Ladies and Gentlemen, today I present to you…
- 2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
- 3 red fresno peppers, dipped in boiling water for a few minutes, then peeled and seeded
- 12 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup toasted almonds
- 3/4 cup halved heirloom grape tomatoes (red)
- 1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
- 1 lrg slice of rusting bread, crust off, diced
- 1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- fresh dill, handful, roughly chopped
- kosher salt, paprika and black pepper to taste.
I discovered ROMESCO SAUCE recently when I was watching one of the Bobby Flay shows on Food Network. I was so intrigued I poked around on the Internet and pulled out one of his recipes for a yellow version of the treat. But Agi being Agi, I had to do things MY WAY, because that’s how I roll.
Romesco is a Spanish sauce traditionally served with fish. However, you can use it as a dip or spread as well. I would go even as far as accenting a pork chop with a teaspoon of the delight. You see it tastes like a sweet pepper jam, if you can imagine that. Have you ever had a sweet pepper jam in your life? Exactly! You’ve got to try this one. It’s divine! Probably due to all the love it requires to make it. Some of you may think it’s a lot of work. I just call it INTENSE LOVE THERAPY.
Are you ready? Then hit that PLAY button on your screen for instructions.
Get all your ingredients ready in separate bowls. Only this one trick will make your life SO MUCH EASIER you’ll send me thank you notes and a pair of Cirque du Soleil tickets! Pour a few splashes of olive oil into a deep saucepan and heat it until it smokes. Now, one by one, sauté each ingredient for a few minutes over medium heat, ensuring that all elements of your sauce are cooked. Leave the almonds aside for toasting sans the oil. Let them get their own natural oils out when in a toaster oven or on a small dry and heated skillet. And for crying out loud, do NOT burn the garlic. Those little suckers of cloves really don’t like high heat for prolonged periods of time, so be sure to toss them around in the pan until lightly golden, and get them out of there asap.
Each ingredient, after it’s been sautéed, may be dumped directly into your prearranged food processor. When everybody’s in, pour the balsamic vinegar into the saucepan, deglaze the pan, reduce it for a minute or two, and also pour the mixture into the machine on the counter. Add fresh dill, close the lid, and press ON button. Leave it be for a couple of minutes until the sauce is of smooth and unified consistency. Turn of the food processor and taste your creation… What did I say? Isn’t it heavenly?! You may want to season it now with salt, pepper and paprika to your liking. You may spread it thinly on your toast and top with a slice of turkey, cheese and cucumber. You may want to serve it with grilled salmon or tuna, or next to the pork chops we talked about earlier. You could also bake various veggie chips and use the sauce as a dip. The possibilities are as many as you can come up with. It’s your game. You set the rules.
All I know is that by making this sauce I raised my very personal bar of culinary standards set in my house. I have so much more respect for myself now that I made my own Romesco Sauce. Are you kidding me? This rocks! Now it’s your turn. Go and make me proud. I promise that your every effort will be rewarded tenfold.
All right. That’s all she wrote.
Working from home turned me into a Neanderthal woman.
Now, what does working from home entail? The fact whether you get paid for it or not is an irrelevant technicality. Remember that money never defines you. My new trade consists of whipping out versatile dinners for at least 5 nights a week, tossing loads of dirty clothes through the laundry machine (most of it Jason’s since, you know, the Neanderthal factor), vacuuming the three area rugs spread across our apartment twice a day of all the nasty little wooden shells that have been falling off the trees surrounding our apartment and consequently dragging themselves inside our chamber of love underneath ours shoes for the last MONTH. Gasp for air. Other activities of a house worker involve watching Oprah and Food Network, Skyping with Mother, Cousin, and our handsome gay neighbors, scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush (oops, nope, that’s Jason), and writing.
Anyone who’s ever tried as much as to write a letter understands that the task is unlike riding a bicycle – once you’ve written something good it doesn’t mean you’ll now produce quality pieces with ease happily ever after. And it never gets easier. True, there are days I shoot out articles in no time, as if I dissolved 3 tablespoons of verbal Metamucil in a glass of aloe vera juice with a heavy drop of senna extract and washed it down my throat. However, quite commonly I just sit in front of my laptop and glance at its blank screen with such intensity I make myself run to the bathroom even without drinking the above-described concoction. That helps putting down the first paragraph on the page. Then nothing, nothing for a long time, and a little more nothing before the next paragraph sees daylight. Sometimes I find myself walking Cosmo, washing dishes, and knitting a sweater between single sentences. So when people (women especially) tell me “Don’t talk to me about pain till you give birth”, I scorn the challenger with the ole good “Been there. Done that. Three times a week, at least.”
Yes, art requires sacrifices. First went the manicure and pedicure. Next, I killed make up. I take that back. I never leave the house without a few touches a concealer on my skin and brushing my eyebrows. The latter is especially crucial if I want to avoid causing any traffic accidents when women faint and children scream terrified by my sight, while old people gawk at me thinking “I thought I had seen it all…” It also takes an effort to ensure I have a fresh shirt on my back every morning. I suspect I could save money on heating the apartment if I finally got the nerve to burn all my bras. My boobs haven’t seen one in months, because, why bother? There are days I forget to shower. It’s gotten so bad in fact that lately I started having nightmares where my various …uhm… [I’m whispering that one] hairy parts are being exposed in public.
Irrefutably, crazy love and pure exhaustion keep my boyfriend from running away, maybe even blinded. When he comes home and hands me “You look beautiful. I love you” like a bouquet of flowers, I instantly look behind me expecting to see Eva Mendes stretching her baby-oiled body against the wall and sporting the Calvin Klein underwear. Is he really talking to me?
Such an image inevitably brings forth fear and motivation. For instance, I have already showered three times today, filed my nails, put on some make up even though the only things we had planned for the day was a quick trip to a coffee shop and a walk with our dog around the block. I applied all sorts of grooming, which I shall NOT describe. My efforts paid off faster than I thought when Jason and I walked by a Victoria’s Secret’s store and left with three new pairs of lace unmentionables.
All that pampering made me feel like a woman again, the modern variety with manicured hands, waxed unthinkable places, and trying to fit in clothes two sizes too small. As such, I couldn’t fathom feeding my body with anything more than a simple salad.
MÂCHE WITH AVOCADO AND MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE
The name of the salad pretty much says it all. If you’re not familiar, mâche is also known as cow grass. Its leaves are very delicate and it is mild in taste.
Empty a bag of mâche into a large bowl; dice a ripe avocado and spoon it out on top of the greens. Feel free to add chopped scallions and diced tomato if you crave some color. It will all go swimmingly together. Now drizzle your salad with the dressing (recipe below). Gently toss everything around, and voila! Enjoy the treat and feel healthy, light, and beautiful. Size does not matter …in this case.
- 3 parts of good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 part of white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp of honey
- sea salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk it in a small bowl, or shake it up in a closed jar, or best – mix it together in a blender (or Magic Bullet) until the vinaigrette is evenly emulsified. It’s that simple. And so delightful!