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No, these were not our Halloween costumes this year. Jason’s carrot from 2009 was so brilliant we didn’t even try to beat that and come up with a new Halloween theme. Though, now that I think of it, Pumpkin Scar Face & Candy Monster would have been a great idea. Instead, since I have too much time on my hands, I spent it by putting together a SCARY MOVIE that will bring you to tears and make you run to your mama. That’s my Halloween TRAET for you, Kids!

Wait, are you here for the recipe? That’s a TRICKY one, because I’ll have to come clean and admit I cheated my way through the PUMPKIN RAVIOLI, or Butternut Squash rather… Ooops! Who’s got the time to kneed the dough, and all that mess, when paper-thin wonton wrappers are readily available at any grocery store these days. All one needs to do is to throw into a food processor the following:

- ricotta cheese,

- roasted pumpkin (or butternut squash if you will) in proportion to the amount of ricotta

- sautéed shallot

- salt & pepper

- green herb like parsley.

Bring it all into a coherent mass, season to taste, and scoop half a teaspoon each onto your wonton wrappers. Brush the edges with water, seal your ravioli, and toss into a boiling salted water for a minute or two, till they float to the surface. Do just a few at a time, and keep them from sticking one to another.

For that extra blush, I like to toss these faux ravioli onto a hot pan with a touch of melted butter, let them sizzle for a minute, and then off tip them into a serving dish. Garnish with greens of your choice, whether chopped scallions, chives, parsley, cilantro, or better–crispy sage leaves.

Voila! That’s a 30 minute dinner, or less. Bon Appetit!

About a week ago, maybe two, right before I got sick, I went to see the antics of THE FLYING CULINARY CIRCUS at Surfas store in Culver City, CA. Those are four young… Wait, let me rephrase it… TFCC are four very young chefs from Norway who travel around the world to cook and horse around for whomever pays. That’s in a nutshell what TFCC stands for.

From left: Trond, Tor, Agi, Mathias, and Hans-Kristian.

The presentation at Surfas was organized by their PR company, and various media personas, bloggers including, were invited. We got to taste a few samples of the chefs’ culinary creations, like their HOME SMOKED SALMON WITH HORSERADISH CREAM, POMEGRANATE & SHERRY VINAIGRETTE…

Delightful! I loved the flavor combination and the contrast of textures.

Another popular bite was SALMON “KISS” WITH TERIYAKI-LIME SAUCE AND SESAME SALAD…

Fantastic! Must have been the top dish that night.

The gentlemen also served us SCALOP CEVICHE that was made right in front of our eyes, which I wish had been done at least 15 minutes prior in order to let the acid cook the scallop. The salmon dishes certainly made up for that one missed appetizer.

Trond is sautéing bok choy with sesame seeds and chili for the Salmon KISS.

What was made long before our arrival was a very simple, very comforting, and very familiar to anyone who grew up in a cold(ish) climate LAMB & CABBAGE STEW. All attendees of the presentation not only got to taste the goods, but also received the recipes for all sampled dishes.

Since the STEW is so easy to make that your 4 year old daughter (sister? niece? neighbor? anyone?) could make it, I’ll share that with you as well (I’m copying the text from the sheet word for word):

- 2.2 lb lamb meat from legs with bones

- 4.5 lb cabbage

- 2 t black peppercorns

- 4 t whole-wheat flour

- water

- salt

1. Cut cabbage into large pieces. Layer meat, cabbage, peppercorns, salt and wheat flour in a big casserole. Bring to a boil and skim foam that rises to top.

2. Boil for 2-3 hours until the meat loosens from the bones.

That’s it. That’s the entire recipe. The flavor was really good, simple, but good. I’m sure you can easily substitute the meat for beef or buffalo. You could add carrots and leeks for an extra layer and depth of flavor. You could add heat of cayenne, or smokiness of smoked paprika. You could… make it your own. Served with potatoes, to me that’s the perfect winter meal.

The guys had one more surprise up their sleeves for us. Once the tasting was finished, and everyone present was comfortably sedated on ever flowing champaign, Tor, Trond, Mathias and Hans set the music and the stage for their famous waffle making presentation…

I recorded this video with my camera, hence forgive the sound quality. I did minimal editing in the very beginning and in the end of the clip. However, I bare no responsibility for the quality of the act itself.

Are you ready for this? I don’t think they were!

All in all, we all had fun. Clearly, none of the members of The Flying Culinary Circus takes himself too seriously. They cook and they monkey around. Come to think of it, that makes perfect sense. It doesn’t matter who you are and where in the world you live, I bet you like to eat well and laugh your back side off. TFCC will deliver just that.

Don’t feel left in a limbo after my last entry. I shall be back tomorrow schlepping along that promised recipe for the soup you can make with a homemade chicken stock. In the meantime, it’s Sunday. Also, it’s about 12 hours after a concert we attended with Jason last night. A concert that cannot be left unmentioned.

I hope you’re already in the know, and thus seek out everything Joanna Newsom related. However, if reading the name causes no reaction within your skeletal structure whatsoever, boy, do you have some catching up to do.

Joanna Newsom is a fairy, a little forest creature that, if you were to look very close, you’d discover she has pointy ears and tiny, translucent wings under the veil of her wheat-colored hair. She’s a child and a wizard in one body, a witch and a poet, an old soul trapped within a body of this 28-year old girl. She’s The Lady With A Harp.

She played at the Orpheum last night to a room full of the admirers of her talent, with a number of celebrities of various caliber scattered among the audience. I spotted SNL’s Andy Samberg and Maya Rudolph (not together), Busy Philipps of Dawson’s Creek, along with some other familiar faces I was not able attach a name to. Let me tell you what happened, and what you can expect to experience while listening to joanna Newsom’s music. For the sake of this presentation, we’ll pretend you are there right now…

You, the spectator, sit and make yourself comfortable, watch her come on stage and bow gracefully, then introduce all the musicians that will accompany her tonight. She positions herself by her instrument–the harp–takes a breath and begins to sing…

A crystal ball of a voice is uttered into the air, and suddenly an emotion hits you straight in your chest. You loose your breath for a moment, and the wall of your stomach begins to tremble like a membrane. The emotion rolls over upon itself and lifts inside your body upwards, through your throat that instantly shuts down, and into your skull. It keeps growing as it levitates within and looks for an outlet as you can’t contain it any longer. The emotion swells up, crystal clear like water with a touch of salt, and such impregnated glides over your eyeballs only to roll out through your eyes to the outside world. Your stomach still trembles as an autumn leaf on a tree that readies itself for winter. You struggle to take a breath, and the emotion keeps building inside, and travels the same distance up to your brain only to look for a release through your tears again.

The emotion is thy reaction to the beauty of her music.

Let me share with you one of my favorite Newsom’s songs called “Good Intentions Paving Company” (thank you, Youtube). Listening to this, for me, is like going on a field trip around the world. First, I hop on a stunning stallion and ride through medieval forests and meadows with grass waist-high. Then, Falkor, the luck dragon from The Neverending Story, pulls me up on its neck and off we fly into the skies and float above the clouds and play with their mate–wind–like children. Suddenly, we slow down, and as Falkor sets me gently on a bed of wild flowers I’m surrounded by a circle of fantastical characters. We hold hands and swing sideways creating a wave of energy that begins to spin faster and faster, and then takes me up into the air again, and I’m floating like a balloon, free and completely exhausted, but happy… Affinity.

That’s my trip.

I stumbled upon THIS video on youtube by pure chance and was instantly smitten by Michelle Phan, who put it together. She’s so A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E. that I want to grow my hair back and tangle it with strips of paper bags and then let artificial air gently blow through the construction. Watching the video brought the romance back. I’m fighting the urge to write a letter to my kinfolks back in Poland… on a piece of paper, with a pen, envelope, stamp, candle light, all that jazz.

I also now understand the fascination Laurent has with Asian girls. Is that a racist thing to say? I swear I’m not racist! On the contrary, I like everybody almost evenly. Except from the Gypsies maybe. Kidding. I considered myself one for almost a decade of my life during which time I kept moving from one end of the world to another. (Depending on one’s perspective, one understands, since the Earth is round. Ish.)

The paper curls made me think of a cooking technique I learned in a culinary class we took last year with Jason. The French bake their fish en papillote, meaning “in parchment”. See, a paper curl is “papilot” in Polish, hence the connotation in my head. Cooking using that method is also a great way to satisfy any artistic desires you may sporadically experience, if you’re anything like me. Why, don’t you instantly think SALMON when feeling crafty?

The last time I made it I was simply cleaning out the refrigerator before leaving town for Christmas. All I had left in our icebox were two salmon fillets and a bag of asparagus. I found a few potatoes in a basket as well, one sad tomato, and there’s always garlic somewhere in my kitchen. Enough for a gourmet feast.

See how simple that is. What you need to do first is to take a big sheet of parchment paper, fold it in half and cut out a heart shape, just like this:

Blanch asparagus in boiling salted water for about a minute, shock in ice water, and drain. Spread about a tablespoon worth of butter (only room-temperature butter will make it possible) on one side of the heart close to its center. Place the fillet right on that cream of love and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top it with minced garlic, a few tomato slices, asparagus, and season again with salt and pepper (just a tad, don’t over-salt it, I beg you).

Preheat the oven to 425°. You’ve reached the CRITICAL point of your craft-making cooking today. Time to close your heart. Time to seal that pocket. Time to fold the folds. Take the loose flap of the cut out heart (the one NOT occupied with salmon et al), fold it over, and start crimping the edges together going from the curvy side down. At the tip leave a small gap open through which you’ll pour 2 tablespoons of white wine into the pocket. Choose the kind you’d enjoy drinking, and never ever, I mean NEVER EVER use cheap wine for cooking. The food WILL taste like the wine. It doesn’t have to be a $50 bottle, but don’t go for the three-buck-chuck either.

Seal the gap, place on a baking sheet, and shove into the hot oven for 15 minutes. In the meantime, melt a tablespoon of butter in a non-stick pan, toss a few small potatoes in, cover and let them cook in their own steam and butter for about 20-30 minutes. At the end, sprinkle with a bunch of chopped fresh dill (that I was lacking), salt, pepper, and serve on the side of your SALMON EN PAPILLOTE.

Life is good, travel expensive, Paris closer than you think.

Bon appetite!

WE MADE IT! It’s January 2010. Dear New Decade, here we are!

Mama, thank you for those beautifully embroidered pillow cases with our monograms. May the world learn about your talents.

Now back to the kitchen.

Have I ever mentioned my fascination with Jamie Oliver, the British chef and an author of gazillion cooking books? He’s a man of many assets. However, it’s not the superb chopping skills, or the teeth loosely arranged in the mouth of that alleged heartthrob (He has a speech impediment, but who cares when he lisps with a British accent?) that got my interest. I’ve yearned for Jamie Oliver to be my homie ever since I learned of his organic vegetable gardens that he plants around his house in rural England. He has a love affair with rustic cooking, just the way our great-grandmothers used to do. In his kitchen he wants organic produce, healthy fish, beef from grass-fed cows, and cage free chickens. In other words, he does it Agi Style and chooses the best for himself and his family. Jamie also tries to convey to the masses the importance of going back to our roots through his various TV shows and books he’s published.

I own a couple of those. I’ve also been known to stalk the above-mentioned CHEF online (Youtube, Apple podcast, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook…) to suck out more tips and culinary techniques HE NEEDS ME TO KNOW.

I want to start this BRAND NEW BABY YEAR 2010 with a recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver that I spotted on his TV show called “Jamie at Home”. He made those crispy and sticky CHICKEN THIGHS WITH POTATOES AND TOMATOES* I later recreated on my own stove. Not only is it an ideal comfort food (just wait till your teeth sink into the tender and juicy thighs), but also it’s packed with fireworks of flavors (the sweet and tart tomatoes with basil). It is a painting bursting with colors on a plate. It is an invitation sent to SPRING to hurry over. It is also silly cheap, aha!

Today, you be inspired. Get yourself those few elements and bring out the inner artist:

-       6 chicken thighs (boned, skin on, ideally free range and organic)

-       1-1.5 lbs potato medley

-       1 pound heirloom cherry tomatoes (medley of colors)

-       red wine vinegar, a splash or two

-       fresh basil, a bunch

-       sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

-       good olive oil

Clean the potatoes and cook them whole in a pot filled with boiling water seasoned with salt.

Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil all over the chicken, then bang-bang with salt and pepper, and cut each thigh into 3 strips. Toss them onto a sizzling hot sauté pan and stir-fry on high heat for about 5 minutes on each side until almost cooked. Make sure the pan is not overcrowded and each of the guys has enough room to kick around. If need be, cook the meat in two batches.

Wash the tomatoes and toss into a bowl. Boil some water and pour it over the tomatoes, then drain after about 2 minutes. This little trick will allow you to easily remove the skins and expose the sweet flesh of the fruit. Prick each tomato open with a sharp knife, gently season with salt and pepper and mix with fresh basil leaves torn into chunky scraps. Lots and lots of them!

Drain the potatoes and cut them roughly into halves and thirds. Toss them into a large baking dish along with the chicken thighs and tomatoes. Spread them flat-ish if possible.

In a separate cup or a small bowl whisk together about 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil with a few splashes of red wine vinegar, and a tad more of the salt and pepper bang-bang. Taste and add more olive oil and/or a touch of honey if the dressing is too tart. Pour over the meat and veggie mixture, stir around, and get the energy flowing and the small talk going. Into the oven they go. Bake in a preheated oven (400°F) for about 40 minutes, or until golden!

Taste…. AW-MAH-GAWD! That is so GOOOD! Pair your beautiful entrè with a simple green salad, dressed with a basic lemon vinaigrette, pop open a bottle of wine, sit at the table facing someone you give a damn about, and eat straight from the dish. And, oh, it’s hot, remember? So watch out. You’ll fight for the last bite, it’s a given.

* Possible Side Effects: overwhelming happiness, subconsciously letting the inner monkey off the leash, jeans button popping, uncontrollable LOL and consequently sprinting water/wine through the nostrils, food coma, money savings, orgasmic satisfaction.

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