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Midnight’s around the corner and I’m buzzing like a hummingbird in the midst of its mating ritual. I walked into our house not long ago after a full day at Da Vinci’s kitchen, where I was on my feet hour after hour after hour. There’s no way around it—I’m pooped. However, the thrill and satisfaction that fill every cell of my body are irreplaceable.

Since I must rise with the sun tomorrow in order to make it to my yoga class before I race back to the restaurant, I will only share with you a few quick notes from another day of my apprenticeship.

I was announced “The Queen of Soup” by the chef, which was accompanied by an imaginary drum-roll and crowning. I didn’t do a good job with imagining the crown though, as it’s kind of tight and makes my head itch. I took the title nonetheless and made SPICED BEET SOUP finished with fresh parsley flakes.

Also, it seems I’m in charge of the Family Meal every time I’m there. No problem; let me do my magic. Today I was given three whole chickens to run with anyway I desired.

My vegetarian friends, now comes the part where you should close your eyes; or better, think of it as a commercial break and go make yourself tea, or run to the bathroom, or go feed the fish, or clip your nails, or… you know. You may not like the next paragraph.

I decided to cut the chickens into separate parts, and bake them in the oven (at 375°) seasoned with spices, a bunch of fresh thyme, bay leaves, garlic, and white wine. Thirty minutes later I pulled out a hot tray of tenderness hard to describe. I used the drippings from the tray to flavor spaghetti that completed the meal, and tossed it with a handful of freshly chopped parsley. Was it a light meal? Hell, no. Did I want to bath myself in that tray? God, yes!

Among a dozen of other tasks, I was also entrusted with making so called ONE BITE of my own design. One Bite is literally a 1-bite dish that is served as a gift from the chef in many high-end restaurants, or between courses, when guests choose a full tasting menu. (The tasting menu requires a whole new entry, which I will surely get to in the near future. That’s so much fun!)

Let me have drum-roll again tonight, as if I don’t toot my own horn, who will? Here comes my ONE BITE, Ladies and Gents:

 

One Bite

 

This is PICTACHIO-MASCARPONE CREAM OVER A CUCUMBER DISC FINISHED WITH LIME ZEST AND A CROSTINI thank you very much. This little thing could serve as an appetizer at your next house party, so feel free to take the idea and make it your own. I’ll tell you what I did, and you may get inspired.

Into a food processor I tossed a handful of toasted pistachios, one clove of garlic, about a teaspoon of coarse sea salt, and a few cracks of black pepper. The machine did the work for me and turned the nuts into a coarse meal. Next, I added softened mascarpone cheese (maybe 1-2 tbsp), a big handful of fresh cilantro and let the blade spin again until everybody merged into a coherent mass. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Small circles I cut out of my cucumber slices; then I topped them with the cream, lemon zest and the cracker. Voila! ONE BITE for ONE MORE BITE.

I take just a tiny bite of credit for it though. Chef Jason Fullilove is such an inspiration. Not only does he experiment and finds new flavor connections every day, but also he encourages us all to dig deep and find our own ingenious voice. He challenges us, but never leaves unsupported. He’s available at all times, and finds sheer enjoyment in sharing all his knowledge with anyone interested. I think I’ve found my hen that lays golden eggs (no offense, Chef). I will follow him as far as I can before he files for a restraining order.

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How many times have I told you to cook with love? Really, how often do I mention within these posts the importance of sprinkling your food with fairy dust and passion crystals? There exists a direct correlation between your success in the kitchen and the amount of love spells dissolved in that pot on your stove. I stressed it enough over the months for you to think I would know better than to step into my cooking chambers all bitter, and with electric current of fury streaming through my spine.

Why, you wonder?

If you miss your best friend’s birthday extravaganza because your mate’s left part of the brain has grown twice in size over the course of one week due to work overload, and on top of that he’s drying out of hunger and thus turning into a pile of dust on a desk in his office as we speak, and you must forgo obeying the law while flying through all red lights of the streets of City of Angels rushing to him with a meal that will save his life, and you call your friend from the car with no headset (oops, another violation!) to let her know of the extraordinary circumstances causing your absence at the party, promising to make it up to her in the next few days, she should understand, right?

She didn’t. She was all “I get that Jason was stuck at work, but you could have shown your face at least”. Oh, Mother, when I heard that, a yellow puff of anger mixed with hurt snuck out of my wide open mouth. Really? I was so pissed that she didn’t give me the credit of the doubt, knowing how fiercely loyal I am, and understand that I must have had a damn good excuse to miss her Celebration Of Aging. And frankly, I don’t need to wait for her birthday to raise a toast for the three new wrinkles she’s developed, and the gray hair she’s grown …on her leg, way up there. And she also should know that the minute her boobs get soggy and her butt widens out of her mind so that she has to buy TWO airplane tickets to fly anywhere, and she gets stretch marks after her first childbirth that will resemble the fjords of Norway, I’ll be the first one to make her a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH FRESH RASPBERRY SAUCE, and stick candles in it no matter the date. Because that’s the kind of friend I am.

In such a frame of mind, I crossed the threshold of our kitchen to make dinner – a pot of hearty soup, one of my favorites, the soup that Jason’s parents loved so much they took the recipe down and entered a soup contest with it in TEXAS. In all modesty, I must say that if there is anything I know about cooking, soup is IT. That’s my forte.

I started peeling my carrots and parsnips all the while thinking of my dear friend, that itzy-bitzy little thing with a big mouth, enormous heart, and a really dirty mind. I crisped some pancetta and sautéed chopped leeks with an onion in a big pot. I tossed all the veggies in along with a few lightning bolts of anger and a dash of salt and pepper. I added two legs of chicken, a handful of spices, and completely engaged in the dialog in my head. From that point on, I have no recollection of the events that took place in my kitchen. I was so busy picturing myself as an old(er) woman with a handful of grandkids parked on the floor around my rocking chair, while telling them the story of a beautiful friendship wasted over …nothing.

The soup was done, and ready to serve. I took a spoonful to taste, and almost spat it back into the pot. It was absolutely disgusting. It was the most repelling thing I ever made. My poor soup, it took it all in – all the bitterness that I got out of my system, and dumped into the pot along with the veggies et al. There was no way to fix it. All I could do was to flush that sour and bitter mixture down the toilet, and drive to see my girlfriend to hug the hell out of her, and give her the birthday gift we both worked on with Jason, and tell her how much I wished I had been there to help her blow the candles, dozens and dozens of them. So many in fact, that the fire marshals arrived, the real ones this time, and not the touring Chippendales in disguise.

When we hugged it all out, I gasped “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. Are you still upset?” She quickly cut me off “Don’t even sweat it. I was PMS-ing”.

I know PMS. You don’t mess with a woman who is PMSing, period. (No pun intended.) And you definitely don’t want to mess with a woman that is PMSing ON HER BIRTHDAY.

Long story short, I have no recipe to share with you today, as I used it all up during my ANGER MANAGEMENT session with self.

Cooking is therapeutic, have I not told you?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VERONICA!

I am a cow. Or at least I have four stomachs like one. There must lie a hidden explanation somewhere in between those two possibilities that is responsible for the phenomena I actively participated in at the dawn of this evening.

I am genuinely embarrassed to admit in public how much food I deposited into my system a few quarters of an hour ago. But I will… in the effort to apply self-punishment. A plate the size of our dining table, and we have a dinning table of astronomical dimensions mind you, was placed before me (by yours truly, to be quite frank) filled with a scrumptious meal I humbly put together. The goods were shaped into a monumental cone, oozing a fragrant ruby red sauce and topped with a mist of fresh minced herbs. I wasted no time and sank a hungry fork into the mountain of food in front of my eyes.

The minute I tasted the first bite, a blissful quiet came over my entire being. The second gnaw only confirmed that state of mind. “I am so happy right now!” – I exhaled amid a series of hurried nibbles.

Once I finished committing the crime of stuffing my guts with this delicious meal, I sat at the table for circa half an hour and moaned. I moaned quietly for the lack of room for oxygen in my lungs. Those spongy bags, filled with life-affirming air, got progressively smashed against my ever-expanding stomach, like the face of a person walking into an impeccably clean glass door they didn’t notice, their steps observed in slow motion. Droplets of sweat scattered my forehead while I sniffled and grasped for air.

In the middle of the 37th moan (approximately!) I heard my blackberry vibrate ecstatically on a nearby coffee table, and its red eye winked at me flirtatiously. “You’ve got mail” – in my mind I heard it announce in the ancient voice of AOL, now as dead as Latin. My natural curiosity, so characteristic to that part of the human population born with a pair of X chromosomes, overruled the brain, and propelled my body forward. However powerful, the curiosity must stand down in the presence of the laws of physics. My body, unable to lift itself under the weight of its overflowing stomach, plunged right under the table with uncanny force. BAM! The pain from the fall pinched my butt, but who could possibly care when the phone was still blinking! From my vantage point beneath the table it now seemed silly close, yet still out of reach of my outstretched fingers. Damn it! I gauged the distance, calculated the effort, then curled into a fetal position and rolled myself over to the edge of the couch. From there it was EASY. One impetuous swing of my arm and the phone was mine again. PHEW!

A few minutes later the euphoria descended and adrenaline levels dropped, and I realized the inhuman amount of pressure I had applied upon my precious insides. Instantly I panicked, and a terrorizing thought crossed my mind – INTERNAL BLEEDING!!! I froze. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. One minute passed. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…3, then 9 minutes crawled by. I was still breathing. Another 15 minutes of that intensely silent lingering and the outcome was confirmed – I WAS ALIVE!

I then issued a long and echoing baritone of a burp that further released some space among the four chambers of my cow stomach, and I was able to breathe at last. Now, by no means do I intend to gross you out with this detailed report. All I hope for, truly, is that you understand the enormous relief I was granted by that simple, and oh so natural, digestive explosion. Only now was I able to extricate myself from the floor underneath the coffee table and beside the green couch, and somewhat steadily relocate to the writing desk in our bedroom. The events of the evening must be logged and archived for future generations to draw examples of behaviors less desired!

A vivid blush floods my face when I realize all that drama was stirred around my … balls. More precisely, meatballs sans the meat. Voluptuous boulders of ambrosial veggie balls rested randomly on the sides of the mountain of spaghetti, all bathed in a creamy and rich marinara sauce. Ah, the memory… !

Beet Soup It all started with the soup season in our house. My poor Jason has recently suffered from a minor and yet annoying physical condition (details of which I shall keep to myself) that forced him to rethink his diet. After thorough research and analysis of various dietary options he committed to soups exclusively. Luckily, I had learned a few tricks in that department, and so I was able to entertain him with a different lunch and dinner menu over a period of a couple of weeks.

soup Such monotony, however, forced me to exercise my creative muscle in order to keep it fresh and interesting each day. One morning, while peeling carrots for another vegetable soup, I reckoned that I might mix things up a little. I pulled out a food processor, purèed some of the veggies, and cooked the rest in big chunks in the ocean of soup. On that sunny morning my Cauliflower Soup, which nota bene is absolutely phenomenal, was brought to life.

It’s not the soup, however, that the tale is about. The purè of cooked vegetables, which are a staple in all my soups, turned out to be so flavorful and comforting on its own that I decided to translate it into an entirely new dish. As of today, I tested, tasted, and – dare I say it – perfected the recipe of Agi’s Veggie Balls.

Agi's Balls

I will now reveal the secret, and share it… with you… because I am such a giver… and I care about your well-being. And hell I am proud of myself, too!

Start with the following ingredients:

– 4 medium carrots

– 2 medium parsnips

– 4 celery stalks

– large leek

– large onion

– 4-5 cloves of garlic (peeled + smashed)

– 2 dry bay leaves

– 4-5 peppercorns

– 3-4 strings of fresh thyme

– 1 cup of water

– 1 tbsp of coconut oil (unrefined)

– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and add peeled and diced onion. Sautè for 5-10 minutes, and toss in the garlic. Now add into the pan the rest of the vegetables, previously cleaned, peeled, and roughly chopped. Throw in bay leaves and peppercorns with thyme, add water, and season with salt and pepper. Cook all until aldente. You do not want your veggies soggy and mushy. Turn the heat off. Discard the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Drain all liquid.

Now prepare the following ingredients:

– 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans

– 2 eggs

– 2 tbsp of grated ginger

– 1/2 cup of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

– 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill

– 1 cup of organic bread crumbs

– 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

– 1/3 cup of grated Fontina cheese

– 1 tbsp of olive oil

– 2 tsp of red paprika powder

– 2 tsp of cumin

– 1 tsp of turmeric

– 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

– 1 tbsp of dry marjoram.

Place your cooked vegetables in a food processor along with drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and pulse into a coarse mass. Scoop it all out and into a large bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients except for the eggs and cheese. Mix well using a spatula. Now break in the eggs and stir everything well. Throw in grated Parmesan and Fontina and combine with the rest of the party in the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat your sheet pan with a layer of non-stick spray, add a sheet of wax paper, and treat it with the spray again. Using a teaspoon, scoop a small amount of the veggie mixture and place it into your clean hands. Now roll it into a small ball and set on the sheet pan. Continue until all mixture is formed into an army of veggie nuggets. Brush each ball with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from burning. Place into the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your, ahem… balls).

Baked Veggie Balls

Serve immediately with whole wheat, organic Spaghetti Marinara, sprinkled with a handful of fresh parsley and dill. I BEG YOU, however, to pace yourself! Definitely use caution when plating your meal. The aroma that will fill your house may intoxicate your reasoning, and all sense of proportions might get lost. Be wary! And learn from my mistakes.

Agi's Balls

Bon Appetit Everyone!

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