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Monday-shmonday. Someone once told me, and this could just as easily be one of those Polish superstitions that stalk me all the way across the Big Pond, that… like Monday like the Rest of the Week. So far, I’ve cleaned the house, passed a few words of wisdom to my less than 2-years old niece in Poland via Skype, got cranky due to caffeine deficit, made lunch for Jason and sent him off to work, treated myself to Peet’s Americano with a side of Cappuccino Muffin, and struggled settling down at last in order to work.

The biggest challenge was finding a place for my office for the day. While Cosmo got himself comfortable in front of his Doggy TV and started flipping the channels…

… I finally landed back on the bed, laptop tucked right beneath my armpit and Jamie Oliver’s cook book in hand.

Last week, I left off writing about utilizing your organic chicken to the last bit. One of such “byproducts” was an organic chicken broth that we can now turn into a satisfying, delectable, rustic, and very cheap to make soup.

I love soups and cook them ALL THE TIME, which I have mentioned plenty a time before. From velvety BEET SOUP, to hearty MUSHROOM/BARLEY SOUP, to elegant CARROT/GINGER SOUP, to my Polish sentiment of SAUERKRAUT SOUP, to Italian RIBOLLITA, to refreshing HONEY-DEW MELON SOUP W/MASCARPONE (recipe from my business partner Alina that I made for the LA Food Bloggers’ meeting last week), to nutritious LENTIL SOUP, to Mexican classic–chilled GAZPACHO. The list seems never-ending, and that’s why SOUPS play such an important role on our LUNCH MENU.

Since the theme of the cooking today is ORGANIC FOR PENNIES, I chose Jamie Oliver’s ENGLISH ONION SOUP to share with you. All you need to enhance your already made stock are:

– about 2 lbs of onions variety (leeks, shallots, sweet onions, red onions, scallions, etc.)

– fresh sage

– a handful of garlic cloves

– a few slices of rustic bread, ideally 2-3 days old

– Cheddar cheese, freshly grated

– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

– 1-2 tbsp of butter

– olive oil

See, nothing expensive. Add those extra few bucks to your skinny budget, and you come out with a giant pot of filing and yummy soup. People you’ll feed with it will fall to their knees and kiss your ankles in gratitude. That’s granted.

Making the soup itself is somewhat emotional, if not dramatic. Think about it–all those onions must be peeled and chopped. If you can go through the task without uttering a single tear, I say you’re not a human.

The rest is a piece of cake. Melt the butter in a hot heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan, add a bit of olive oil, chopped garlic and a few sage leaves. Let the guys saute for a minute (and no longer, so the garlic does not burn) and toss all your onions into the pot. Season with salt and pepper, stir, cover with a lid (90% closed), and let it all cook very slowly for about an hour. Next, remove the lid and now you have another 20 minutes or so to add color to your veg. Cooking the onions slowly is the key to achieving that irresistible sweetness that onions offer.

Time to add your organic chicken stock. Bring everything to a quick boil and reduce the heat, allowing the soup to simmer for another quarter of an hour. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

In the meantime, turn the oven on a full whack. Toast your bread on both sides and set aside. When the soup is ready, pour some into individual heatproof bowls and cover with your toasts, as tight as possible. Sprinkle your grated cheddar all over the bread, garnish with an extra sage leaf, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and set the bowls on a baking sheet. Such arranged, place the sheet in the hot oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve immediately.

Jamie also suggests planting a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce (pause… let me untangle my tongue) over the servings, but you follow your own instincts.

Eating Organic, delicious, homemade food on a budget? Totally doable! So… let’s eat better, everybody.

Bon Appetit!

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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.

I don’t even know where to start.

It was a long holiday weekend with a rainbow of flavors and events from the Pork Loin Wrapped In Bacon, to Experimental Mashed Rutabaga & Cauliflower, to Butternut Squash Ravioli, to couples’ massages in Ojai, to the golden sunset over an orange orchard, to my virgin Lucky Devil’s Kobe Burger, to a kaleidoscope of hungry friends taking turns in our dining room, to the beheaded pigeon in the courtyard of our building. Need I say more?

The pigeon incident was not only utterly sad, but also eerie. Last night I was leafing through the Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Jamie at Home”, looking for dinner inspirations for the upcoming week. There’s a whole section on feathered game in the book, and I happened to put my finger on the page 262 with the recipe for an Asian-style crispy pigeon with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. It was so outside of my culinary box, I handed the book over to Jason asking for his impressions, and thinking to myself “How does one even go about getting a pigeon?” This morning I found one, lifeless, headless, footless, right outside our kitchen window. It was heartbreaking and creepy all at once. I have chills rushing down my spine even now, as I’m typing these words. Urgh! Those wild cats that roam the streets of the city at night! Then again, there’s no reason to reason with Nature about the shape and form of the food chain established over the millions of years of evolution.

Happy thoughts, happy images, quick, take me to my happy place…Now!

(As seen from our moving car:)

We drove to Ojai to steal a day outside of LA (I’m such a poet). We left to catch a breath of fresh air and to remember why we had chosen to live in California. After each of us got a bottle of body oil rubbed into their skin from heads to toes (just like the herbal and honey-mustard mixture I massaged into the piece of pig we ate on Thanksgiving), we cruised the outskirts of that little town, surrounded by orange trees pregnant with fruit and kissed good-night by the last rays of sun. There was silence in the air, and we could feel the heartbeat of the Earth beneath our feet. The living painting all around us was simply astounding. The Earth… the Mother, the Miracle, the Might, the Beauty… Let’s not destroy it… please.

Speaking of miracles, I mummified our 2-pound Pork Loin with the following Honey-Mustard and Herbal Rub:

–       2 tbsp of Dijon mustard

–       1.5 tbsp of whole grain mustard

–       1.5 tbsp of honey

–       2 garlic cloves, minced

–       2 tbsp of fresh thyme

–       2 tbsp of fresh sage, chopped

If you are aching for baking… a little pork, here’s what needs to be done for this dish. Mix all the above listed ingredients in a bowl and set the sauce aside. Heat the oven to 350˚. Cut three pieces of kitchen twine, long enough to wrap around your pork loin and tie. Lay them across your baking pan, and set the meat on top of the strings. Sprinkle salt and pepper all around it, but gently. Using a spoon spread the honey-mustard mixture all around the chunk of pork. Now, take two bacon strips at a time and overlap them as you cover the whole piece of pig in the dish. Tie the kitchen twine, and shove it al into your preheated oven for about an hour.

Here’s the before and after shot of the beauty:

When you take the meat out, wrap it with a sheet of tin foil and give it 20 minutes to let the pork get to its happy place. You never want to cut into the meat instantly after cooking. Let it rest. The juices will then distribute within the chunk, thus keeping it moist and utterly flavorful.

Our pig was really happy, particularly because we served it with a side of simple green beans. I’ll give you a few tips on how to make the beans exciting and bursting with life. Toss your green beans into a pot with salted boiling water and let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then whisk them out and throw them directly into a bowl of ice water. In other words, shock them! There’s no need (nor reason) to hide and then jump and scream “Surprise!” while at the task. The ice water will do the trick. Basically, you want to stop the cooking process, and also allow the beans to retain their vibrant color. Drain the veg and now toss it onto a hot skillet with a tablespoon or so of melted butter, add a couple of roughly chopped garlic cloves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe a few red pepper flakes for that extra kick, and toss everybody around for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat.

Another miracle of the day was my Experimental Mashed Rutabaga and Cauliflower. It was a truly unexpected success. I will tell you all about it in my next installment. Stay tuned.

Cheers!

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