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Where do I begin? Only one week back home and already the kaleidoscope of meals and events that filled those days made up for the last two months of …just working. From a rocking baby-shower where the future, first time parents were expecting TRIPLETS, to a night on the town with our nut-job friends and GABY MORENO at The Hotel Café, to a leisurely lunch mid week with Heather and John, to an Oscar viewing bash at our modest abode with a bunch of near to heart fellows…

Those are some colorful people by the way. We haven’t seen Tom since the STAKE DINNER SUNDAY months ago. He arrived last night lugging two gigantic duffel bags and pushed it all through the threshold straight into our living room. I was terrified for a second there he would toss our dining table out the window, thus making a room to set up his tent. Tom doesn’t leave his house without a tent. Plus a bag of baby carrots. Lewis, whom I am pretty sure I have never met before, arrived promptly with three plastic sacks full of Cracker Jack. Our own Lady Dee turned up the volume with a bottle of bubbly, while Veronica and her beau sneaked in straight to the kitchen with a bag of food they ate rapidly and with no further ado both left the party. Have I mentioned their gym clothes still tightly adjacent to their sweaty butts?

“A hug good-bye? No? OK, we’ll go shower now.”

Around the same time Jason G. perched under our window and peeked inside the house. He quietly waited for a moment of silence in the room and then BAM! he banged on the window and wasting no time he shot his petite construction of a body towards the front door all the while squeezing a photo of his new girlfriend from Bogota inside the pocket of his new leather jacket.

“Have I shown you the picture of her?”

“Yes, Jason. I have seen the picture of your model-looking girlfriend stretched on the white sands of a Colombian beach.”

“Isn’t she gorgeous? Can you believe it?”

“No, Jason. I can’t believe any of that. Especially the part where you left her on that beach in the middle of a drug trafficking trail.”

He parted ways neither with his jacket nor the picture inside its pocket throughout the evening.

Leslie forgot her toothbrush and was forced to drive back home and sleep in her own bed (boring!) instead of crashing on our couch. (Has someone mentioned a sleepover? Hello! FUN!)

Those who arrived first last night were eligible for the EARLY BIRD SPECIAL in the form of my unexpectedly delightful CROSTINI. The surprise element is ever present in my kitchen, especially when it comes to the satisfaction with any given meal, considering the amount of experiments and other such explosions of spontaneous creativity going on around here.

The CROSTINI are an incredibly simple appetizer and wildly popular at various catered events. If you’re looking for an inspiration take a look at these two from our last night’s Oscar Viewing Partay. I suggest you double or even triple the amount I made. The CROSTINI were gone in nanoseconds.

Numero Uno –

GARBANZO BEAN & SUN-DRIED TOMATO CROSTINI TOPPED WITH MY TOMATO RELISH

What you need are:

–       14 oz can of garbanzo beans (or cannellini is fine, too), drained, rinsed, drained again

–       1/3 cup of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, with the oil

–       2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

–       handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

–       fresh lemon juice of 1 lemon

–       1 tsp of aged Balsamic vinegar

–       1/2 tsp smoked paprika

–       good extra virgin olive oil

–       sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

All those guys land in a food processor. You just press the button and let them merge into a coherent mass while slowly adding a drizzle of olive oil. Taste. Moan with satisfaction. Store in an airtight container on a quiet street inside of your refrigerator for later.

For the relish:

–       2 roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

–       handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

–       1.5 tsp of aged Balsamic vinegar

–       1 tsp of raw cane sugar

–       sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Mix everybody in a small glass bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and park right beside your Garbanzo Bean & Sun-dried Tomato Spread in the fridge.

Numero Duo –

SMOKED HERRING & ANCHOVY CROSTINI TOPPED WITH PARSLEY

Grab:

–       7 oz can of oil-packed smoked herring, oil set aside

–       2 oz can of oil-packed anchovy, oil set aside

–       handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

This one is just a laugh. That’s how EZ this topping is. Using a fork smash both fishies in a glass bowl, mix with the parsley, cover and ship into the icebox. Seriously. That’s it, I promise!

Minutes before your guests arrive, heat the oven to 375° and slice a French baguette on a diagonal. Spread the slices on a sheet pan, drizzle half of the batch with extra virgin olive oil, and the other half – with the olive oil the herring and anchovies were packed in. Be generous. Place the sheet pan inside the oven for about 15 minutes. When ready, cover the first half with the Bean and Sun-Dried Tomato spread and top with a few chunks of your marinated tomato relish.

The other half of the baguette slices is to be topped appropriately with the Herring-Anchovy mix. Pack it tightly on your CROSTINI and serve instantly.

I was smart enough to snap a photo of each platter before they landed on the table before those hungry sharks of my friends. Minutes later the baguette was just a vague memory and Jason just stood there amazed by how much he enjoyed the herring despite his utterly horrific expectations.

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I hate for you to think I’m neglecting my JOURNALISTIC duties of logging in the nuts and bolts of the culinary ventures I participate in. Nothing further from the truth. My heart aches for the lack of time, and my fingers itch to type away such succulent words and directives as STIR, MASSAGE, RUB (my roasted chicken), TENDERIZE, ROLL OUT, STRETCH (that bread dough AND my back after 17 hours of hustling in the kitchen…), SPREAD (the vegetables on a roasting pan), BEAT, PRESS, SQUEEZE, and POKE (no fun!).

It’s day 2 of the production of this very article I kid you not. I sneak in a word or even a complete sentence between various tasks that are being thrown at me at work. The satisfaction from such naughty behavior tickles me inside, adrenaline sprints through my veins, and the mischievous brat inside imitates a sinister laughter.

There’s no story to share, no juice or dirty laundry to expose, no beans to spill. Life goes on oblivious to all circumstances and doesn’t pause for a minute. Thus imagine what a Herculean effort it is for me to rewind time and bring you back to my kitchen last Sunday, where Leslie was plotting to stock her purse with my POTATO SKINS while I wasn’t looking. (Check the comments section if you believe me not!)

Speaking of the devil…

It is a true American Comfort Food, and a virgin territory for me. You know how I feel about doing a research and digging out recipes for dishes I attempt to make. I’ll be blunt – I’m too lazy for that extracurricular activity and so I merely cut to the chase of figuring out the jest of the dish at hand on my own. Most of the time I’m exploring foreign culinary grounds in order to learn and thus expand my repertoire. Just like with those guys above – The Russetts.

Leslie said:

“I’m severely craving baked potatoes.”

Agi thought:

“Bring it on!”

I got a bag of medium Russet potatoes, cleaned and baked them in a preheated oven (at 400°) for an hour. Next, I cut them in half (after they cooled off a little, hello!) and scooped out most of the potato leaving the skins still strong and intact. About 4 oz of pancetta landed in a hot skillet, fat rendered, pancetta was rescued into the bowl with the potato “meat”, and onion slices caramelized in the same skillet. I sprinkled crashed dry marjoram (I’m in love with that herb, no question) all over softened onions, seasoned with salt and pepper and set aside.

The potato “meat” mixed with crisped pancetta was then seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg and chili powder. One teaspoon of butter gave it the moisture of a tropical forest. The green ribbons of basil chiffonade interlaced the filling like lianas in a jungle.

Drum-roll, please! The hero(in) of the dish arrived – Gruyere cheese, grated and generously added into the mixture. Once coherent, the mass was then scooped back into the potato skins, topped with more cheese, drizzled gently with olive oil, and baked in the oven for another 25 minutes at 350°.

We served them instantly, garnished with a tart tip of sour cream, and washed down with a glass of cold Chimay.

Need I say more?

Super Bowl Sunday – one of the very few and rare moments in time when Jason is home for a full day and a whole night. No work calls, no office madness, he’s all mine. The fact it’s the Super Bowl Sunday (which to me it’s just as thrilling as the Groundhog Day) has nothing to do with Jason’s freedom. It’s a pure coincident, serendipity if you will.

I’ve turned down invitations to various parties involving beautiful people, gourmet food, belly dancers and notables such as celebrity stylists and monarchs of whole countries! Ok, I kid, silly. However, I did make sure that the only thing we had planned for today was NOTHING. And then I got this email from Leslie:

Not only did I love the remix, but also I could not say no to Leslie, except we pushed it to Sunday. Had she lived closer, I’d probably have her hang on to the spare key to our house so she can come visit more often. And believe it or not, I’ve never baked potatoes the way she described. Back in Poland, we do it Neanderthal style – we set up bon fire and bury potatoes under its flames. Those babies taste like nothing you’ve ever had in your life.

So I bought a bag of Russet potatoes for later today. I’ll give them such a makeover their own mother won’t recognize her Russet babies. There will be make up, and glitter involved, mani/ pedi, and hair spray. I’ll then record the session on a series of color photographs and post them along with my next entry.

Speaking of potatoes, I went through a meat-free week and in the process reinvented a couple of veggie dishes from my repertoire. When Friday glanced into our refrigerator, a day before our habitual grocery shopping spree, there were only 2 bell peppers left, green beans, mustard and one sad bunch of greens. I was to make dinner out of those bustards.

I paced through the kitchen scratching my forehead, nodding along as I threaded back and forth, with an occasional hum breaking that intense silence. Half an hour later, as I was juggling a pot of boiling water with potatoes and green beans and simultaneously stirring caramelizing onions and red bell peppers in an iron skillet, Jason walked back from work and asked:

What are you making?

I don’t know. Ask me again when I’m done.

Then I dove again into the refrigerator and surfaced back holding the lettuce with my teeth and squeezing a half-empty jar of mustard in my armpit. I put together all the dressing elements and let the Magic Bullet do its magic. I drained the potatoes and beans and tossed them together in a large bowl with the vinaigrette, chopped Romaine lettuce and parsley. I seasoned it with more salt and pepper, and then topped the mountain with my caramelized onions and bell peppers. The sugar and balsamic vinegar turned them into that sweet and tart cherry that tops the proverbial cake. Loose leaves of mint perfumed the dish, giving it a new twist.

Here’s the summary:

POTATO AND GREEN BEAN SALAD

WITH CARAMELIZED PEPPERS & ONIONS

–       red skin and purple potatoes, cut in thick slices

–       green beans

–       Romaine lettuce

–       large onion

–       2 red bell peppers

–       1 tbsp ground fennel seeds, for caramelizing

–       fresh parsley, roughly chopped

–       fresh mint, roughly chopped

–       3 tbsp of raw cane sugar, for caramelizing

–       3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, for caramelizing

–       olive oil, for the dressing

–       white balsamic vinegar, for the dressing

–       1 tsp Dijon mustard, for the dressing

–       1 tbsp honey, for the dressing

–       salt + pepper to taste, for everything.

Fill a small BOWL with the SALAD and be assured this will be plenty for a full, nutritious and satiating meal. You don’t need to be a fan of football to enjoy your own  SUPER BOWL.

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