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Who’s your muse?

Jason does it for me, with his eyes open or closed, with his clothes off and even on, with his mind in either Beta or Alfa states, with his raw passion for music, with his yin strength and yang tenderness. It is he whom I want to impress first and foremost whether I write a silly blurb for the Internet, roast a duck, shape my eyebrows, or play with a camera.

(The tape on J’s t-shirt is tagged “I LOVE YOU”. Say no more.)

However, there are also artists among our friends that leave me in awe whenever I experience their works. Jason’s BFF Paul, a man of countless talents, takes a camera and ceases the moment to be forever remembered as his eyes had witnessed it. Looking through his photos makes my throat dry and my skin perspire as my heart beat suddenly accelerates. His work torments my ego to some extent, but mostly it leaves me awed. It’s like peeling an onion–very emotional.

Photo by Paul King

And then there’s Laurent, my old buddy Lolo, whom I’ve known for almost as long as I’ve been in the US. He’s a scientist and an artist, a humble man with big pockets, inside which he was able to fit an MBA and a PhD in Chemistry. If you rummage about, you’ll find a patent somewhere in there as well. And then all this… his art.

Photo by Laurent Dambies

When back in my church, the kitchen, I often look for ideas between the many pages of cookbooks I’ve collected. Jamie Oliver’s books are most ragged, though, as I take advantage of them every time I’m in heat… in a culinary sense, one understands.

Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up itching to make something new, to develop a brand new recipe I could call my own. I stomped through the house back and fro, scanning my surroundings like a hungry savage animal looking for prey. And then my eyes rested on the shelf with some homemade preserves and such…

What followed can only be described using the language of astrophysics. A Supernova happened in my very own kitchen. A star of an idea exploded, splashing severed parts of my thoughts all over the surrounding walls, and thus I was illuminated. With no further ado, having arranged my still slightly smoky hair back to order, I gathered my gear, rolled up my non-exsistent sleeves (We live in SoCal. I don’t even waste time on wearing a bra most of the time, much less sleeves!), and witnessed a Nova being born–my ROASTED PEPPER SOUP & PORK BELLY WITH HONEY DEMI GLAZE.

Roasted Pepper Soup

It may be nothing new for you. However, my lips have not been in a near proximity to roasted pepper soup ever before. Therefore, I take credit for the entire thing, including placing the bum that blocks your view in the above photo. While hunting for the best angle/light combo, I was running around the table focusing on the target–the bowl–completely oblivious to the bread in the foreground. That’s why I cook for a living, and not take photographs.

That’s not all, folks. Stay tuned to find out what I will do with my NOVA… (In the background you should hear now…. Yes, you must click that link in order to hear it…)

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Somewhere in between concocting hearty and soulful soups…

WILD MUSHROOM SOUP

baking HERBED POTATO CHIPS with a side of Green Peas Dip…

HERBED POTATO CHIPS

serving LUNCHES to starved for quality home-made food Los Angelenos…

TRICOLOR VEG & CHICKEN DISH

and stalking nearly extinct HORNED FROGS in the woods…

HORNED FROG

my silly food-ish blog ONE MORE BITE celebrated it’s FIRST ANNIVERSARY (July 21st).

I’ve been having so much fun writing all this up to day. Now I’m looking forward to more candles on your B-DAY CAKE each year to come.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MY SWEET AND DELICIOUS “ONE MORE BITE”!

Softened, silky, creamy butter with added flavors and/or other components… Then set back in the refrigerator to firm. COMPOUND BUTTER that is.

It’s simple, thus brilliant.

SWEET–with cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice, maple syrup, even jam… to top pancakes, warm muffins, or Belgian Waffles. Decadence.

SAVORY–with herbs (parsley and chives, dill, cilantro, mint, basil, tarragon, etc); garlic, orange or lemon juice and/or zest, mustard, chilled roasted garlic or pepper; spices (paprika, black pepper, coarse salt…). Euphoria!

There’s no need to gorge on the butter. Just a touch. On the tip. Of your dish. Lamb. Chicken. Fish. Pasta. Veg. Grains’ variety.

One silly trick like this can elevate the flavor of your dish onto a different plane. Maybe even into a different Solar system. Deep, round, soothing flavor in your mouth. Think about it. Feel it. Want it. Do it. Oh… life! You taste so GOOD!

Last week Jason and I took five days and four nights out of our schedules in order to get out of Los Angeles. Four nights and five days for what seemed was just a minute.

We packed a cooler, a change of underwear, our camera, an ipod worth a decade of continuous music, Cosmo’s squeaky toy, and a liplube, and off we drove to New Mexico.

There, Jason’s best pal, his soul brother, his BFF Paul welcomed us at his log cabin hidden amongst sky-reaching pine trees on top of a mountain. Fourteen glowing eyes, twenty-eight legs and six tails total, all of which belonged to Paul’s cats, froze motionless behind his back at the threshold of the house upon our arrival.

If you’re quickly doing the math in your head, and 2 plus 2 just won’t make 4, know that one of the seven felines was a Manx. Ah… six tails indeed.

And then Cosmo appeared. Out of the car he sprang and around the house he span sniffing the ground and learning about his new circumstances. He spotted a cat, one of the seven that had dispersed in the darkness, and set his aim. Little did he know, the cat (all of them) moved with the speed of light (from his perspective) and flew through four bedrooms, the kitchen, and a vast living room in the same time poor Cosmo was still trying to find a way out of the first room alone. The three of us stood there, the speechless spectators, and quickly came to a conclusion that no intervention was required. Cosmo would never catch up with any of the kitties, hence no threat was posed.

The cats watched Cosmo's every move.

Cosmo had his eye on the cats.

Sequestered within the heart of the forest, wild coyotes crying in the distance, we set by the fireplace and exercised our brains talking for hours on about life and humanity, ecology, the origin of Homo Sapiens, Terence McKenna, fire fighters, the stars above and the volcano nearby. At sunset, we drove to the peak of the mountain and watched the sky.

We walked through the woods for hours, down to the river and up, by the Aspen girls. Then, in complete darkness we found the way out onto the highway and back to the house.

We cooked all meals, from breakfast through dinner. Well, I cooked, but always surrounded by eager and willing helpers. All it took was a hundred dollars that we stretched between four people and three meals a day over the July 4th weekend.

Five days away from home, from my kitchen, and from my computer turned into a full week of catching up. Not only did I not have time to write, but also I had to gear up for a whole lot of cooking for my upcoming Lunch Deliveries.

Before I withdraw back into my kitchen chambers, I want to share with you a dinner idea. Something different. It’s a simple peasant food with a smoky twist I put together one day recently–ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH SMOKED MACKEREL.

There’s such a colorful and flavorful variety of root vegetables you can make this dish every time anew. Pick three veggies at a time and reinvent the meal over and over again. You could do carrots, turnips and kohlrabi. Add potatoes for extra body. Next time try diced rutabaga, parsnip, and squash. Add Brussels sprouts for color. Then you still have beets in various colors, same as carrots, plus a celery root, and a fennel bulb to twist it all together. Roasted onion never disappoints either.

To roast your medley, first preheat the oven to 400ºF. Wash, peel and dice all veg keeping them all more or less same size. Toss the bunch into a roasting pan, sprinkle with olive oil, add a bunch of fresh thyme (leaves picked or whole brunches scattered around), half a spring of fresh rosemary (or leaves picked and scattered around), a few crushed garlic cloves, and 1-2 bay leaves. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix everything about making sure all pieces have been treated justly. Pour 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of veg or chicken stock to the bottom of the pan, and slide the dish into the hot oven. Roast for 30-45 minutes (depending on your veg and the dice size). Half way through, dive in with a long spoon and toss the medley about.

When finished, scoop as much as your hungry soul desires onto thy plate, top with chunks of smoked mackerel (that you had previously scraped with a fork from the fish itself, leaving the bones and skin behind), and freshly picked dill. Treat the fish with just a few drops of lemon juice, sprinkling from up high. That simple touch thus turns the meal automagically into a hedonistic thrill.

I can’t even describe the pleasures you are to experience upon the first nibble. The creamy flesh of the oily fish melts together with the savory vegetables producing a carnival of joy in your mouth. Don’t just take my word for it. Try it at home, I dare you.

Risotto is by no means a light dish, especially if made like the Italians from the North intended it to be. There’s no harm in enjoying it on an occasion though, as it is simply a velvety comfort on a plate like no other. Once you master the technique of making a risotto, you can start experimenting with other grains. I’ve tried it with quinoa and barley, and both grains were just as spectacular in the dish as their ancestor rice.

Below is my Prima Vera version with fennel, leek, asparagus and green peas. Know, however, that your risotto is limited only by your imagination. You can use mushrooms and squash, and meats, all the way to fish. I’ve seen sweet risottos made with fruits and berries. I’ve seen a Farro Risotto cooked with red wine in the place of the stock.

Go ahead, test drive it, play in your kitchen, challenge yourself, and have fun above all. The more JOY you add to your meal, the more flavor it will give you back.

BARLEY RISOTTO PRIMA VERA

Start with allocating the following items at your arm’s reach:

– 1 fennel bulb, cleaned & chopped

– 1 lrg leek, cleaned & chopped

– 3 cloves of garlic, minced

– 1 cup of frozen green peas

– 1 sm bunch of asparagus, bottoms snapped off

-1 cup pearl barley

– 1/2 cup white wine

– 3 cups veg or chicken stock

– lemon zest of one lemon

– 2 tbsp of mascarpone

– 1 tbsp butter

– 1/2 cup grated Gruyere

– salt and pepper to taste

– fresh thyme and tarragon, chopped

– fresh parsley, leaves picked

– olive oil

Making Barley Risotto is not much different from the traditional one, except it’s easier. You follow the same rules as with the traditional risotto, beginning with sautéing the veg. Start with the leek, then fennel and garlic at last, add fresh thyme and tarragon, salt and pepper, and stir occasionally until soft and translucent. Make sure you have enough olive oil in the pan to prevent any burning.

Next add the barley, and toss everything around, allowing all kernels to bathe in those flavors. Toast the grain for about 2 minutes, once again stirring and watching not to burn anything.

Splash some wine into the pot, thus deglazing the bottom. Add about two-thirds of your heated stock and stir. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, cover the pot leaving just a small gap, so the barley can breathe, and leave it be. Come back once in a while to stir, and check on your grain. If it gets too dry, add more liquid. You may not need, however, the entire 3 cups of stock to cook the barley.

About half way through the process add the green peas and asparagus (cut in 1 inch long pieces), stir and cover again to finish cooking.

When the barley is fully cooked, but still slightly chewy, turn off the heat and add your butter, mascarpone, Gruyere and lemon zest. Mix about letting everything get incorporated evenly into the dish. Taste, fix the seasoning and serve immediately.

Dress with fresh parsley leaves.

If you’re feeling lost in my ramblings, take a look at another dish, my Butternut Squash Risotto, and note all the similar steps it takes to accomplish this Italian classic. Think of it as your light in the tunnel, or better–your GPS through these pages full of recipes scattered across the board.

Your efforts will be ten fold rewarded with the first forkful of your homemade meal in your mouth. Guaranteed.

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