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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!

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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 can’t believe I’m forced to consume the entire Brownie Pie I made last Wednesday! (By the time I’m done writing this article, it should be just a vague memory.)

After sifting and whipping, and then more mixing and scooping, I placed my baking pan full of chocolaty batter in the deepest depths of our oven with my hopeful heart stomping anxiously inside my chest. I was testing a new recipe while adding my own twist. The twist was of an orange shape, shave, fragrance, and flavor. What came out of the dark and hot chamber was this brilliant fudge brownie with a crisp top, cracking under the slightest pressure as the ice breaking on a river in spring (anywhere east and north from LA, one understands).

Oh, I was so proud and so in love with myself for having completed my bakery challenge. Not wasting any time, I scooped a generous portion out for our friend and her two daughters who stopped by to visit with us. They complimented the cake, mentioned its FRAGRANCE and how INTENSE it was, after which they politely left HALF of the brownie pie on the plate. Next in line was Jason. Taste it he did. The spoon vanished inside his mouth, wiggled its silver tail, and then instantly repelled backwards. I glanced at Jason’s face. His expression was puzzling for a moment. I watched his mouth stretch gently askance, and then mysteriously curve up and down into a zig zag (Yup, just like in a cartoon!) as he spitted “Hmmm…it’s too… orangy!”

I really wanted to stamp my shoeless footprint on that sour grimace of his.

But I didn’t. I took the goods back to the kitchen, wrapped it up neatly, and put away on the shelf. There will be people banging on the door begging for a slice of my famous fudge brownie one day, with Jason leading the crowd. I will make them pay! … a bag of colorful beads, a fan of feathers, and a golden tooth per each slice. That’s right, my cake will be worth as much as the White People paid for the entire Manhattan …or so. Dammit.

A lot of experimenting goes on in my kitchen, clearly. It’s almost like a science lab minus the science part. Just to end that Thanksgiving reminiscing, and in time to start prepping for Christmas (oh, boy), let me quickly walk you through my latest culinary trial – Mashed Rutabaga and Cauliflower.

You see I am not a big fan of mashed potatoes. Even as a kid, I would have my mom call me to the kitchen when the potatoes were ready, so I could put aside a few before my brother beat the crap out of the rest of the guys in the pot. I bet as an infant I was stealing whole carrots when nobody was watching, and fussed around when fed those purees from a jar. I bet I grew teeth overnight after that first tasting.

I should talk to my mother!

Back from talking to The One Who Brought Me To Life. Mama dismissed my theory on premature teething. Moreover, she informed me that whatever food they put in front of my face it would disappear within nanoseconds, apple and carrot purees included. “I don’t like the way this conversation is going. Good night, mother.”

Until this past Thanksgiving, I was a rutabaga virgin. Never before did I have an opportunity, nor desire to mess around with that oddly looking bulb. Since I love cauliflower, I thought I’d cook both together, with a parsnip for company, and to keep the Party in the same color theme. And so she did. (“She” being me. Don’t ask me why I sometimes refer to myself in the third person. It appears at times that I experience my life through narration, as if I was reading about my character. OK, I’ll stop talking before someone calls for the authorities.)

I know that now you just really WANT THAT EFFIN RECIPE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, HOW MUCH LONGER CAN WE LISTEN TO THAT NONSENSE you’re thinking. Ok, ok… Let’s do it. (I’m such a pushover!)

MASHED RUTABAGA WITH CAULIFLOWER

–       1 whole cauliflower, with leaves trimmed and cut into florets

–       1 rutabaga root, peeled and cut in large cubes

–       1-2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in big cubes

–       1 tbsp organic butter

–       1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

–       1/4 cup chives, roughly chopped

–       kosher salt

–       freshly ground WHITE pepper

–       2 bay leaves

The fun part begins when all your veggies are in a big pot, covered with water, bay leaves floating about, and seasoned generously with salt (say 1 tbsp or more). Turn off the heat and drain the veggies the minute they are cooked aldente. That’s right, you want them to still have a good bite. Why? Because all these vegetables tend to soak up a lot of water the longer they cook. You don’t want your dish soggy and beyond mushy, do you? When the water is all down the drain of your sink, put the pot back on the stove over a very low heat for a couple of minutes, thus allowing more moisture to evaporate from the potatoes and the gang. But watch not to burn their precious bottoms!

When all the dirty work is done, time for make up and hair. Add the butter and grated cheese into the pot along with another tablespoon of kosher salt and almost as much of pepper. The heat will melt all those goodies while you hit the pot with a potato masher. Bang it good, ensuring that all the gooey, cheesy and buttery goodness is distributed and incorporated among all the vegetables. Don’t bash it too much, though. It’s not supposed to be baby food, ok? Keep it rustic and chunky. Scoop the dish into a pretty bowl and sprinkle your chives all over, just as that green glitter you used to put on your cheeks on the way out to a discotheque… way, WAY back in the day.

The dish came out GOOD BEYOND MY WILDEST DREAMS. I know for a fact that Jason was secretly terrified by the idea of making that meal in the place of traditional mashed potatoes. He always claims he trusts me, and loves 99.8% (precisely) of all the food I make. That doesn’t change the fact that he experiences moments of sheer terror when sporadically I juggle some culinary ideas in front of his face. Let’s thank The Lord for helping me deliver those ideas happily and with no complications… in 99.8% cases.

A Brownie Pie? What Brownie Pie?

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