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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!

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The proverb goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. However, I wasn’t given the option. God knew I’m a rebel and I refuse to follow the masses. God respected it, and so instead of the above mentioned yellow, über tart fruits, he/she handed me… onions.

VERY FUNNY, GOD! I HOPE YOU’RE SHAKING UP LAUGHING ON YOUR FLUFFY, LAMB-SHAPED CLOUD UP THERE.

On my very first day at ANIMAL I was given a task of chopping onions. Thirty (30) of them. Each one to be peeled and diced into 1/4″ cubes. Roughly, because who’s measuring, right? Next, I was to caramelize the bunch, cool it, and store it away for the dinner service later that night. Shallots followed, twenty of those, with a tiny cut adjustment called brunoise. It’s a fancy French word for a VERY SMALL FOOKING DICE. (1/8″ cube to be exact, but again, who’s running around with a ruler!) Have you ever tried that? No, the French did not mean you MINCE the bulb, because that would be too easy, and sloppy, but precisely BRUNOISE them. End of story.

Three weeks later I still begin every morning at the kitchen with at least twenty onions on my chopping board turning them into a bowl of tearsome dice one head at a time. I got really good at that, thought I did not expect working at the restaurant to be that emotional. Sniff-sniff.

Luckily, during my time with the restaurant’s crew I did more than just improve my knifing skills. In a true ANIMAL spirit, I’ve seen a ZOO pass through their kitchen. Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at the menu before I move forward.

Once seated at the table, one can start with a CHICKEN LIVER TOAST, and then push it with CHICKEN HEARTS WITH LIMA BEANS, BABA GHANOUSH & YOGURT. If that doesn’t bring your testosterone levels up, there’s MARROW BONE WITH CHIMICHURRI & (my!) CARAMELIZED ONIONS available at your request.

All that is just a happy meal for your toddler when you juxtapose the starters against other treats on the menu. How about some PIG TAILS “BUFFALO STYLE” or PIG EAR WITH CHILI, LIME & FRIED EGG? RABBIT LOIN WITH COUNTRY HAM & SUCCOTASH introduces you to game I myself am a big fan of. Like the CRISPY RABBIT LEGS WITH MEYER LEMON AIOLI where the meat is so tender it melts in your mouth as fast as that cliché comes to mind.

There’s more, but you get an idea where ANIMAL comes from, and where it goes for that matter. In the morning hours of prep, I witnessed beheading of an octopus; I assisted at an autopsy of hamachi fish; I deboned smoked trout, and cooked and cleaned sweetbreads (calf’s gullet that is, and not a bread of any kind). Oh, yes, I butchered a bunny as well.

As macabre as it sounds, it’s just nature that feeds us. When plated at last, all the meats are simply fabulous. The food is the reason I chop those onions endlessly without as much as a bleep, so I can get up close and personal with the process and techniques. The kitchen is organized impeccably. Operations run smoothly like in a well oiled apparatus. The crew is friendly, professional, and welcoming–from day 2 I felt a sense of camaraderie. I haven’t met everybody yet, since I’ve been working the morning shift thus far, but beside the bosses, the TWO DUDES, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, there’s Frank and Rebecca, there’s Carlos and Dan, there’s Jose and Gaby, and there’s Raymundo.

The local legend says Raymundo was a surgeon in his native Mexico, and one day was summoned to operate on a drug lord. He butchered the surgery deliberately thus eliminating one of the top mobsters from his home turf. Consequently, he was forced to flee his country, and that’s how he got to the U.S., and became a cook.*

At least that’s what the legend claims, and you know what they say about legends, especially those very local ones…**

Raymundo has since worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, like Mario Batali to name one, before he laid out his knives in ANIMAL’s kitchen. I told you his story for I am about to share with you one of his recipes, and I want you to be able to fully recognize its value. Also, this is to show that ANIMAL is more than just the flesh and bones. Those bi-weekly trips to farmers’ markets happen for a reason. It may come as a shock but there are a few vegetarian options on the menu as well. Raymundo’s recipe would be one of those:

RAYMUNDO’S TOMATILLO SALSA (proportions adjusted):

– 5-6 tomatillos, husk off, washed and quartered

– 1-2 jalapenos, keep seeds of one for heat

– 1/2 tsp cumin

– 1 tsp red wine vinegar

– juice of one lemon

– pinch of salt

– handful of cilantro

– 1-2 garlic cloves, smashed

Place all ingredients in a food processor, or blender, and give it a solid whiz. When liquified, cut small pieces of a ripe avocado and sink them in the salsa. Drizzle a spoonful of the goods all over fresh burrata. Finish with a few sprinkles of sea salt (muy importante).

That’s how it’s served at the restaurant. However, at home, I loaded my plate with butter lettuce first, thus making a bedding for my burrata and salsa, and added a few ribbons of red onion for color and whole cilantro leaves for fun. A drizzle of good quality olive oil is an option that will bring everybody together, just like the Olympic games do.

You think that’s not enough for a dinner? Think again. Neither Jason nor myself had any room left even for a single chocolate chip cookie afterwards. You MUST try RAYMUNDO’S TOMATILLO SALSA. It’s to die for. (No pun intended.)

* + ** All names, dates and places have been altered in order to protect the lives and privacy of the people involved in the story. All characters mentioned and the story itself may or may not be fictional and have plenty or nothing to do with reality.

Today is a good day.

It’s good despite a certain physical discomfort I’m really trying hard to restrain myself from writing about again. But how not to when my high school classmate contacts me via skype earlier today, and when I say I won’t be able to chat long due to the above mentioned experiencing of pain, she bluntly asks:

“Is that perhaps the famous PMS?”

We haven’t spoken in a decade, mind you, minus an email here and there. Dumbfounded I utter:

“But how do you know???”

“From your blog!”

Ah. That. Though I haven’t written about this one yet. YET.

The day is good nonetheless. It’s great. It’s FESTIVE & CELEBRATORY. Here’s why. Something happened today, something unprecedented, at least as of the year two thousand and six…

It was one of those exotically warm days in October, back in 2006. It was exotic to me, as I had just moved to Los Angeles from quite positively four-seasoned New York City. Don’t forget also that I grew up in Poland. Four ever changing seasons was all I knew till then. It must have been one of those summery days of Californian fall in 2006 when my ass was wrapped in a pair of my favorite jeans for the very last time. As never after it was able to fit again. Until this day…

Today I pulled the old buddies out of the closet where they sat in the dark corner forgotten and in disgrace since TWO-THOUSAND-AND-SIX. I dug them out from underneath a pile of all those new guys I collected in the meantime. And just like that, suddenly inspired, four years later I tried to reunite the best of me with the best of the blue jean kind. And it worked!

Truth be told, it did require me to HIP-HOP some, and then to CHA-CHA-CHA a little bit more in order to tuck every last bit of me inside of those pants. Nevertheless it WORKED! Not only was I able to zip and button up, but also I am able to sit in those jeans as I type these words. Initially I tried the desk chair first for it’s adjustable, then the couch as it’s lower thus more challenging. In the end I was rolling on the floor exchanging hugs, tears, kisses and stories with my best buds who have returned home at last.

About this photo… May I inform you that my legs go for inches and inches beyond the frame of this photograph, so don’t be fooled by skewed proportions. Also, Cosmo is a very SMALL dog. A miniature really. What you’re looking at are legs… thin and all-the-way-to-my-tuchas long. Note that at the time of taking this photo my tuchas was sitting at the neighbors’ kitchen table.

Well, then. Now you know WHAT. Time to reveal HOW. Let’s omit the part where I skyrocketed three sizes up in the first place, about four years ago. The first two sizes left me shortly after I met Jason and fell in love. They just packed their stuff and went on their own, leaving no letter good-bye. Not that I ever missed them. But that last little size got stuck. Let me assure you that I didn’t even mind it in the end. I was comfortable in my skin at last, for the very first time in my life really, and it didn’t matter that much what the scale underneath me said. I wouldn’t even step on one, because who cares!

Lately, however, Jason and myself found motivation to get back to the gym, as we do every few months or so. Jason was complaining about a few extra pounds he no longer wished on him. I needed to get my core muscles stronger for those long hours of dancing around the kitchen when at work. Every child knows, however, that no exercise will bear results if the diet ain’t right. Hence, following the wisdom of many trainers that crossed my path (whose secret equation for losing weight is: 70% diet, 30% physical torture), we decided to switch dinners and lunches around.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been sending Jason to work with his lunchbox full of hearty and filling goods so he has enough energy for a jog when off duty. And then, after the gym, instead of stuffing ourselves with a bowl of pasta or rice, we simply enjoy a nutritious salad, full of natural vitamins and metabolism-boosting enzymes along with a touch of protein (nuts, chicken, fish, cheese, beans, etc.) and healthy fats (olive oil or walnut oil, nuts, avocados, and such).

This salad-eating also forces me to keep inventing new dishes and re-inventing what’s known and out worn. Above you see a version of a coleslaw. It’s crunchy like the traditional one with slivers of radishes, ribbons of red cabbage, and thin slices of Green Apple. It’s full of toasted walnuts that take the edge off the apple’s tartness. The dressing is somewhat familiar, though made with a non-fat Greek yogurt (like in my slaw recipe I posted here). However, there’s butter lettuce in the place of white cabbage, sprinkled with poppy seeds and thus turning the mix into a brand new experience. And trust me, a plate full of this salad, where you must work out your jaws on each bite, will keep you satiated till you’re ready for bed.

What do you do with the left over cabbage, you ask. It’s a good question. Let me also applaud you for purchasing the whole head in its natural form versus already shredded one and packed in plastic. Use those crunchy ribbons as a color-booster on all the different types of salads. Not only does it add esthetic value, but also texture and anti-oxidants, calcium, potassium, and loads of vitamin C, K and A.

Here’s another variation on a salad that served as post-work out dinner for Jason and moi. As seen above, its an abundance of sautéed kale with shallots, garlic, and tomato over roasted young potatoes, with added crunch of red cabbage, persian cucumber slices and paper-thin slivers of radishes. Needless to say, it is a warm, comforting, and filling plate of … vegetables. Yet it won’t weigh you down just hours before saying sayonara to your day.

The bottom line is this: exercising is undoubtedly good for keeping my butt cheeks closer together, tighter I mean, less jiggly and more bouncy. It also allows my back to stay firm and strong during those 8-10 hour shifts in the kitchen when on my feet at all times. However, it’s those hearty SALADS FOR DINNER that let my bottom jewel shrink enough to fit in my old blue jeans and wiggle woogie-boogie.

I think I won’t be parting with these for a while… My ass can’t be trusted.

I wish. To travel along the rebel who knows food like nobody I know in person, I wish. To learn about carta di piano from the mothers and grandmothers of a Sardinian village while raising a toast with wine made locally, I wish. To walk among golden fields of wheat and rye, to sink my teeth in a tomato bursting with flavors and straight off its vine, I wish.

I’ve been watching lots of “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. Can you tell? I guess it’s only fair that I mention I’m a fan of the show on Facebook as well, so that I can get their updates and feeds about the upcoming episodes like:

As if it wasn’t alarming already, I follow the guy on twitter, too, because, well, he’s there and clearly wants to be cyber stalked.

Alright. I get it that it’s not quite Tony himself. It’s the producers, the marketing team, the network even, who the cracker knows. Tony is some other place every time a new twit appears online. Duh.

Have you noticed how familiar I got with Mr. Bourdain? It’s because his book “Kitchen Confidential” is sitting on my night-stand supported by no other than the most recent of his penned bricks “Medium Raw”. He’s everywhere I turn my eyes whenever the lights are on. I feel like I KNOW the guy in person. If he happened to be strutting down Sunset Boulevard right in my neighborhood, I would merely throw at him…

“WHASSUP TONY!”

… without so much as a wink, and keep walking Cosmo hoping for a rapid poop, so we can turn around and go home finally. Man, that dog takes FOREVER to empty his bowels! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT PATCH OF GRASS??

I don’t even know how it all began, that boyfriend-approved affair with another man. Jason hasn’t shown any signs of jealously in fact since I took a break from watching “Dog Whisperer”. Back then he would ask me biweekly at least…

“ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE ME FOR CESAR MILLAN?”

…I haven’t heard that phrase in a long, long time.

I will take my assumption even further. I am convinced Jason would not reject an offer of some sort of a ménage a trois, if we were given an opportunity to shlep along chef Bourdain across Europe for example. I mean it in a professional sense, of course, where our job would be to attend any finger-licking tastings and youth-reviving feasts. In such a setting I would gladly share a seat with Mrs. Bourdain, with their offspring gleefully hopping on Jason’s lap. Think sequel to “European Vacation”.

In my tribute to Tony (Yes, we go WAY back!), I’ll be writing today about PORK. My sweet Ms. Piggy in a flurry of crispy bibb lettuce and a nest of pea shoots resting right on thy head, make yourself at home.

No recipe is needed for this pink perfection. Simply season the loin with salt, pepper, a touch of olive oil and maybe fresh thyme as well; place it in a roasting pan, add a cup of white wine or chicken stock and shove all into a preheated oven (at 350°) for 35-40 minutes total. Take it out, cover with aluminum foil and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes. While the meat is gathering its juices, you make a glaze: 1/2 cup of port wine + 1-2 tbsp of honey in a small sauce pan. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer away until reduced two-thirds or so. When the liquid gets thicker and sticky-er, pour it over the slices of your roasted pork loin.

You know how I am–always chicken this, chicken that (the happy, organic kind of course). However, pork tenderloin is lean and healthy, rich in vitamins of the B family, then zinc and of course protein. Since it’s also referred to as the other white meat, I no longer feel like a cheater, well, because… how much chicken can I eat for my ass’ sake?

I made this dashing, juicy, bursting with flavors PORK LOIN last week and fell for its tender and oink pink flesh instantly. So did Jason. Now, guess who’s coming to dinner this week? The red carpet is ready for you, my dear Ms. Piggy.

A quick cheat sheet to whom it may concern: one doesn’t need to go to a culinary school (all fingers point at moi), nor be a self-trained chef (all fingers, once again: ready, aim, fire!) to make eggs like one.

On weekends, Jason and I like to sit down at our ginormous dining table for a proper breakfast, without the usual running from the refrigerator to the bathroom sink, exchanging a banana for a toothbrush, while getting ready for another work day. Most of the time, we celebrate either Saturday or Sunday with a plate of ever fabulous SCRAMBLED EGGS. The trick is to keep it fresh and versatile for there’re many years ahead of us full of chicken balls on weekends.

True, there are special occasions, like Easter for example, when I like to dress my eggs up in lace and frills.

Some days, however, I’m too hungry to fuss about their shape and form, so I simply flap my scramble-ness with an attitude (of a squash, e.g.) straight onto a plate, like I’d shown you here.

The problem with egg holidays is that they don’t come often enough. So what does one do when in the mood for some EGGstravaganza in between Easter and Hanukkah? I say adopt a holiday and turn the mundane Veterans Day, or President Day, or Labor Day for that matter into Scrambleday…

… Agi thought and so she did…

“Pancetta Italiana rendered in a hot pan, whistling a rhythmic sizzle under its nose. In the small pool of the glorious fat fresh Sage Leaves skinny dipped till crispy and fried. Next, Eggs were cracked up laughing when joining the party, seasoned with dirty salt and pepper on the rocks, they mingled and small talked with the new-found friends for life. Right when the bartender announced the last call, Ripe Gorgonzola crumbled all over the dance floor and seamlessly merged with the crowd. Instantly after the lights went off. Valets brought the plates to the front door with the toasts running. One sober gentleman, Mr. Round Cutter, offered his hand to keep the gleeful elements in shape, thus bestowing grace upon them for the last time before they reach Nirvana.”

How’s that for a recipe?

Bon Appetite!

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