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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!
February has come unnoticed, and perched quietly on a tree branch outside our bedroom. It’s the Month of Lovers, Juliets and Romeos, Juliets and Julies, Romeos and Ramons, Suitors and Darlings, Cavaliers and Sweethearts. What about FOOD LOVERS? When do we get chocolate hearts with booze filling and free tickets to WICKED? If there is a FOOD LOVERS’ DAY, can someone please pass on the memo?? Because I didn’t get it.
One month ago today we were sitting in a car with Jason moving steadily along I-10 heading west. We were driving back from Texas after the holiday break and Cosmo was still wearing his Santa costume. The drive, as I’ve mentioned before, takes two full days (in other words 24 hours plus a one night stand in a roadside motel), hence we stacked the car with books, magazines and monkey tricks to keep each other entertained.
One of the magazines was Rolling Stone; at the end of the trip the most ragged one, as Jason is fiercely passionate about music. His bond with music is legendary and of such magnitude I have all the reasons to be jealous. Let’s put it this way: if our house was on fire (knock-knock), and Jason had to choose between pulling my naked body from underneath the satin sheets we don’t have (but could have, as it’s a hypothetical scenario) and packing up his collection of vinyls, turn tables, and his iTunes library, I’m afraid he’d have gone for the latter.
Jason is a walking music encyclopedia. He knows not only the names of all albums of his favorite bands (and those go by the dozen), songs on those albums, all band members’ names along with their shoe sizes and childbirth marks on their asses. I know I tend to exaggerate occasionally, just a little tiny bit. Trust me, it’s not the case today. He loves to dig through the Internet for hours (when that luxury is available) sniffing out facts, news, interviews, music videos, logs of the creative process and predictions.
When he read Rolling Stone’s summary of the past decade in music epithets started floating inside the chamber of our car. Pepe we named it. The car, I mean. Jason disagreed with most of the magazine’s choices for their Top Ten Albums of the Decade.
Why don’t you make your own list?
I challenged him.
Why I will then.
He responded and took the nearest exit off the road in El Paso, where we stopped to feed the horses. At a Mexican restaurant I chased after a waiter and with my broken Spanish I asked for a napkin and a pen so Jason could vent his frustration with the magazine and lay it all out on the paper.
Pardon, me homie, el papel por favor.
The man with a thick mustache and a sombrero nodded with a smirk, which did not escape my attention, and started heading back to the kitchen. As the gap between us grew, I realized I forgot to ask about the pencil, and so I yelled at the top of my lungs:
Y uno mass, corazon – el lapiz un poquito por favor. Gracias, me hombre guapo.
The waiter froze, turned around on a ball of his foot and looked me deep in the eyes from across the room. He took a breath and threw back at me with the sweetest smile:
Si senora loca.
I loved that man.
Jason didn’t waste time and quickly scribbled his first choices. However, it took another month for him to have a moment to finish assigning each album it’s rightful place on his Top Ten. Inevitably some changes occurred.
Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado I present you with the final version of
JASON’S TOP 10 OF THE DACADE:
10. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – The Sound of Silver
9. PORTISHEAD – 3rd
8. GIRL TALK – Night Ripper
7. WILCO – Yankee Foxtrot Hotel
6. RADIOHEAD – In Rainbows
5. THE WHITE STRIPES – Elephant
4. TV ON THE RADIO – Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
3. SIGUR ROS – Agaetis Byrjun
2. ARCADE FIRE – Funeral
1. RADIOHEAD – Kid A
Have I mentioned Jason is a little nutso about Radiohead? If Thom Yorke farts, Jason knows about it, not to mention any other of his creative endeavors.
Around the same time, just hours after we stepped back into our cosy abode, I also challenged myself with one of Ina Garten’s recipes for NOODLE SALAD WITH PEANUT SAUCE. I have tweaked it (hello!) by switching to organic and whole-wheat noodles as well as almond oil for canola oil, and agave nectar for honey. And then, of course, I changed proportions of some of the sauce ingredients, as the one made by Ina seemed way too oily for my liking.
Here’s my concoction:
- 0.5 cup of almond oil
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 4 tbsp soy sauce, low sodium
- 3 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tbsp agave nectar
- 3 tbsp peanut butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
Whisk all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Cook your pasta (whole box), drain, plunge into a large bowl, and pour the PEANUT SAUCE all over it while it’s still hot. The temperature will help the noodles absorb all those wonderful flavors like a sponge.
Blanch sugar snap peas (about 8 oz) for 1-2 minutes tops and shock them in an ice-bath. Drain the green bunch and toss in with the noodles. Julienne (cut in super thin strips) one small red bell pepper and into the bowl they go. Roughly chop a bunch of scallions and fresh flat-leaf parsley, and bang on top of that mountain of noodles. Sprinkle sesame seeds all over and mix it all together.
You can enjoy it right away, or cover with plastic and store in a refrigerator for later. The peppers and sugar snap peas give it a fun crunchy texture, while the PEANUT SAUCE wraps it all together like your lover’s arms on Valentine’s Day.
Countdown to the premiere of IMPORTANT THINGS WITH DEMETRI MARTIN is on. Tune in on Thursday at 10 PM on Comedy Central.
Earlier today I was driving, blinded by the hammering rain, and as wipers ran frantically across the windshield, and I slid along the highway, I slipped into a contemplative mood. Then I thought to myself…as a child, after you’d learnt of the Earth’s rotation, did you ever think that it rained when the planet was upside-down? As if the seas and oceans poured out of their reservoirs? Yeah, me neither.
And then I remembered last night’s dinner… Now, can we please talk about that STEAK?! Or – in other words – the ULTIMATE COOKING TEST that I passed less then 24 hours ago …thank-you-very-much? Yes, let’s talk about that.
If you’ve followed me around for the last couple of months (or even a few days but managed to go through most of the articles) you must have noticed that I write a lot about chicken and not so much about other meats. There are reasons for that. Primo, there’s still plenty of time to cover all sorts of omnivores’ dilemmas. Secundo, I not only talk chicken but also cook chicken on most occasions. Each week, we interweave poultry with fish and vegetarian meals to keep our dinners versatile, healthy, and clean. Maybe it’s the fact that I lived my life vegan style for so many years before, that it took me so long to even open my eyes in the presence of red meat, not to mention putting IT in my mouth. I do not know.
However, last weekend Jason and I went to Whole Foods and he sweet-talked me into buying some fresh, organic beef fillets. We spent almost 30 smackers on two nuggets of cow meat, each about 2” thick. Having close to zero experience with beef, and intimidated by the price tag, you can only imagine the stress level I was under when prepping the dinner last night.
I knew there was no fooking around when it comes to raw meat. I also knew I needed to consult the best. So I turn on the TV and scroll down the recordings on our Tivo hoping to find one useful cooking show amongst the dozens I saved. YES! There she is! Ina Garten herself stands right there, in front of my eyes, ready to walk me through roasting a sirloin beef fillet “Barefoot Contessa” style.
One leads to another…
Eagerly following her guidelines, I mix about a tablespoon of room temperature butter with a tablespoon of Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce (she asked for Dijon Mustard). I wash my two beef nuggets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Ina says: preheat an oven to 500˚. I turn on our toaster oven. It’s a fancy little box – highly dexterous and able to multitask at that. Not only does it toast our toast, it irons our shirts, gives foot massages, bakes, bikes, and then heats up to a breathtaking 500˚ and serves as a broiler.
Given the choice between a big spacious oven that takes time to heat up, thus sucking proportionally more energy, and a compact and eco-friendly toaster oven, which does Agi take? Of course I go for the latter. But first, I rub the mustard-butter mixture all over my steaks, sprinkle evenly with salt and crushed black pepper (as Ina told me to), and shove both into the fancy toaster oven-slash-foot massager.
Here comes the tricky part, and the most crucial one when it comes to cooking meat period. The question of …HOW LONG? When Ina dances in front of the camera with her block of premium cow cut, she makes the task look as simple as putting your foot on a gas pedal and pushing. Easy, right? But what will she tell all the flustered cooks at home who have not only hit the dining room wall, but also drove through it and into the neighbor’s stack of hay? Hey, what will you say then, Ina?
You see, everything looks perfect on the TV screen, but I’m stuck at home with those two shits of red meat, the very expensive kind, all battered up and ready to dance in the fire. Ina says to give it 20-25 minutes in the oven until the fillet reaches 120˚. Then to wrap it with aluminum foil and let it rest for another quarter of an hour before you make the first cut. She then slices it and makes Roast Beef Sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce and Arugula.
Are you kidding me?
Here’s what Agi does. I let both chunks of meat, generously coated and well seasoned, broil away in the scorching hot toaster. I walk on eggshells pacing around the box. I peek through the little smudgy window, but the darkness within prevents me from getting any feedback. I mumble a few prayers in Polish that I remember from my early days, retrieve a flashlight from our goodie-drawer in the bedroom and shine a light on the sweaty guys.
I check the clock as if my life depends on it. I do the math in my crazy head and figure it should take less time for my small baby fillets in that little toaster oven. Hence, 13 minutes into this melodrama, I’m on the verge of pulling my hair and spitting all my teeth out into a handkerchief. I can’t take it any longer and pull out the tray with the toddlers. I stick a thermometer into one of them and let my eyeballs follow the mercury rise up to 120, wait, 130, oh no! it keeps going up to 140˚. Suddenly it stops, takes a breath, and picks up again before settling at 143 degrees Fahrenheit! What did Ina say?? One hundred twenty degrees was all it was supposed to reach. Damn it! And I tried so hard… I’m devastated. My hope that stood breathless in the corner for all this time now burst and evaporated along with the aroma of freshly roasted meat.
With my shoulders hanging down by my hips, and my mouth curved upside down in sadness and utter disappointment, I continue assembling the dinner for Jason who should arrive home any minute now. With a tear lingering in the corner of my eye, I cook a little pasta and make a quick Marinara Sauce. In another pot, Brussels sprouts steam themselves for the heck of it. The meat just hangs out in the cooling toaster, very confused and unsure of its future.
When my honey walks in through the kitchen door, I finish plating our meal and walk him straight to the dining room with an ambivalent expression on my face. He reads me like an open book:
- It didn’t work out? Don’t worry, baby. You don’t even like red meat. I don’t have to have a steak. And if I crave it one day, I’ll just go out. It’s really not a big deal. And you know I love everything else that you make. I guess red meat is just not your thing. And THAT’S OK!
- Booo-hooo …! – is all I have in me in response.
We sit down and with obvious hesitation take the first bite. Hmmm… Without uttering a single word, Jason hums and moans, wiggles his rear end in the chair, throws his eyebrows up and down, and as he swallows the rest of the bite he exclaims:
- This is FANTASTIC! This is what I call a STEAK. This is perfect! Baby, I have no words… You are an amazing COOK.
- This thing really IS good. Wow. I can’t believe it. I have just lost my flower. I’m no longer a STEAK VIRGIN! – I reply dumbfounded.
With each bite, I fall deeper and deeper in love with the golden nugget of steak I brought to life with my very hands. It’s a medium rare perfection with the smoky flavor of mustard, and as soft and juicy as the melted butter it was cooked in. The crazy part? It was broiled inside our smart, GREEN, multifunctional toaster oven!!!