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The day has come. April 15th arrived and Uncle Sam wants to hear from you. For once I have taken care of my taxes way before the due date, which, as you know, ended up in my utmost indignation and relentless hiccups despite my wildest expectations. Nonetheless, since I no longer need to worry about 2009, I can focus on a bowl of whole-wheat comfort bathed in a juicy sauce of my choice.
Every week Jason and I do groceries on Saturday, and we buy either one whole chicken that will last for several dinners/lunches, or just a chicken breast plus a fresh fish fillet. Those take care of two to three dinners a week. The remaining days we follow a mostly vegetarian diet.
Usually around Thursday I glance into the depths of our refrigerator and panic as the only thing looking back at me is one sad veg (like zucchini or broccoli), a half-empty jar of capers, leftover mascarpone cheese and rapidly wilting dill. For a moment I’m startled wondering what to make for dinner. But then I run through the pantry and discover at least two variations of dry pasta kicking back in the drawer, a can or two of water-packed tuna (no salt added), maybe a jar of tomato puree, and to make the deal even sweater – there’s a bag of artichoke hearts in the freezer. In a basket there’s always a few onions and garlic cloves only waiting to get in the game.
It takes about 20-30 minutes to make a hearty meal out of the above-mentioned. During the time my pasta water boils in a large pot, I chop and sauté an onion, add drained and crumbled tuna meat, then capers, frozen artichokes, and cover it with my liquid tomatoes. I season the sauce with salt and pepper, maybe a touch of paprika, and let it all simmer together until the pasta is aldente.
Apropos pasta, for a chunky sauce like this, choose the kind of noodles that have ridges and holes allowing the sauce to wrap itself around and/or inside each peace and become one. It’s very sexy.
(Hearing the words, Cosmo lifts his head from the nap, sniffs around, and teased by the aroma coming from the kitchen he barks out loud: OOO, DID SOMEONE SAY SEXY?)
Turn off the heat under the sauce. Scoop about a tablespoon or more of mascarpone cheese and incorporate it into the sauce. Let it melt, baby, let it all nicely melt in. Add freshly chopped dill or parsley, and slowly toss in your cooked pasta along with about a ladleful of pasta water. Mix it all together and voila!
I can’t even describe how phenomenal that meal is. My advise to you is to make only as much pasta as you’d like to eat at one sitting. If you make too much, you’ll be huffing and puffing but you won’t be able to stop before the dish has disappeared from the surface of the Earth.
Here’s another variation of my pasta mid-week fix. Get yourself an Anaheim pepper (green bell pepper will do, too), chop it and toss into a blender with 2 cloves of garlic, chopped onion, a bunch of cilantro, good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, a touch of chili powder, and drizzle in some olive oil. Mix it all into a green sauce.
Heat your skillet, add olive oil and sauté chopped zucchini (2-4, depending on their size), while your pasta is boiling away in a separate pan. Season it with salt and pepper and maybe a touch of smoked paprika (why not). When zucchini is semi-soft, add the green sauce and let it simmer together until the noodles are aldente. Toss the pasta into the skillet, stir, push everybody around, and serve!
Feel free to begin this dish with diced pancetta, letting its rendered fat to be the base for the zucchini. You can also add grated Gruyere cheese at the very end, or Parmesan if you prefer. Melted cheese will help bind your pasta with the sauce, turning the dish into a close-knit family.
Even when you think there’s nothing to eat in your house, think again. Check your cabinets; check the produce drawer in your refrigerator. From my experience, there’s always a lonely fellow left sending out RESCUE ME messages either by a pigeon, or in a bottle, or even coded in Morse, just dying to be devoured with pleasure. It’s just a matter of sautéing or fixing up otherwise.
I’m outta here. Da Vinci is exepcting.
I will sound like a broken record but what in the world is going on with the Wednesday Shopping Fever? Unless you have a Batmobile, don’t even bother looking for a spot at the parking lot in front of our local grocery store. Not on Wednesday at least. Instead, I propose you leave that stinky car in the garage, arm your pockets with shopping bags, and march ahead to the store. You’ll thank me later when you’ll have come back with a healthy blush on your face licked by the sun and with the Lance Armstrong’s heart rate when he’s asleep. That man is a power horse, and we have got to start somewhere.
Speaking of eco-friendly commute, have you ever dreamed of time traveling? My accountant has afforded me such trip the other day and I wasn’t sure if I were dreaming or we really went back to 1954. I met the guy last year when doing my taxes. Jason has been a client for a number of years and swore by him. This time we went together. When Jason’s finances of 2009 were sorted, the CPA reached out to my pile to organize that pathetic proof of my income. To call it an INCOME is a solid exaggeration. Nevertheless, he put the numbers into his columns and I peppered him with questions regarding starting my own business. Since, as you all know, I recently began working as a personal chef, I wanted to learn about the expected proper behavior of a responsible taxpayer when self-employed.
And that’s when I heard this deafening squeak as if a giant wheel was turned. Lightening cut through the skies, a sinister horn sounded off in the distance, the ground shook beneath our feet, lights in the room went off and icy wind swirled around me causing my nipples to stand up in full alert. I didn’t fully comprehend we were back in the early 50’s until I realized the CPA completely ignored me and began to answer all MY questions regarding MY business directly to Jason, all the while referring to me (yes, I was acknowledged) as a SHE.
“She should open a separate account, and she should use it for all business related transactions”…
I sat there dumbfounded with my eyebrows slowly rising and pushing my hairline dangerously close to the tip of my head, while my nipples completely deflated.
“I’m here. And I CAN hear you.”
I uttered at last throwing the accountant completely off track. He looked at me confused and then with a bleak smile he turned his attention back to Jason as if he were asking his fellow penis:
“What does she mean, mate?”
It’s been 48 hours since the incident. I am still trying to shake that off. The crazy part is that the dude is MAYBE ten years older than me, if that. Who are his parents? Where has he come from? Was he an Amish offspring that had escaped the regime too late to recover and absorb the rules of the Western culture? At least he didn’t have a knee-long beard. Ok, I’m done.
That same night we set off the clock once more with the movie of my youth based on the books I read back in my days of innocence – “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I was all in tears within the first five minutes of the film, the sentiment being stronger than any reason.
“You know it’s a three hour long movie. Are you going to cry the whole time?”
Jason was quickly learning that night about the role Anne has played in my life. It is a series of books about a redhead orphan child that I had devoured one after another, multiple times (the books, and NOT orphans). My mother was the one who introduced me to Anne Shirley, and we would read those stories together alternating the tomes.
The movie is as girly as they come, and yet Anne is such a delightful and amusing character that even Jason was quickly engaged in the story and sat through the entire 3 hours and 15 minutes of the film with me, enjoying every minute of it.
If I were to complement the charm and charisma of Anne of Green Gables with food, I would choose something fresh and bright, and yet complex in flavor and texture. Something oozing with comfort and yet elegant and authentic. One thing comes to mind – SALADE NICOISE.
The salad is a beautiful arrangement of tuna, cherry tomatoes, soft-boiled eggs, green beans, new potatoes, olives and often times anchovies on a bed of butter lettuce. All the vegetables are drizzled with vinaigrette and thus complement the lightly seared tuna steak on a plate. It truly is a painting and you are the artist. Salad Nicoise is a French classic you can make your own by adding your own twist through the presentation, a choice of vinaigrette, or the method of serving tuna.
Be inventive, be creative, and let your own personality shine through any dish you prepare. You are the cook. Your knife is a paintbrush, the plate is your canvas. You are the artist.
What makes one a writer, I wonder… Having a blog exploiting one’s intimate culinary encounters? I think not.
In various social circumstances, upon meeting a new person, I am often asked what it is that I do. Since I’ve been experimentally unemployed for the last couple of months (the first time in my life), I usually simply reply:
“I’ve been writing…”
“Oh, you’re a writer!” The human somehow gathers from my ambivalent response.
And I say nothing more, as what more should I add? That I’ve been working on my knifing skills? That I’ve chopped a few onions and even made a steak in our little toaster oven? Or that I’ve been testing my neighbors’ patience with loud music, and my dog’s tolerance level with the dirty dancing that I perform to get out of my head? I don’t lie, but neither do I go into further detail.
When I finally filed my taxes a few weeks ago (I had applied for an extension, worry not), my accountant chatted me up while filling out the forms. He asked about Jason (his client as well) and how long we’ve been dating, what’s our dog’s name, and how life was in general. When he asked:
“So what do you do?”…I thought he also meant… in general, in my free time.
“I’ve been writing.” I said. “I just don’t get paid for it …yet.”
“That’s how it usually goes in this town, doesn’t it?” He concluded, the smart ass that he is.
Later, when I looked at the paper work, I noticed “WRITER” under my occupation. Now, does this make me a writer? What better proof of my trade than an IRS statement?
I heard that writers exhibit strange behaviors while experiencing creative flow. Someone told me once about this guy who could only write when sitting on top of an armoire in his tiny New York apartment. Imagine? How inconvenient! I also used to know this other guy, a writer as well, who’d store his journal in a freezer. He even told me that he tried to pull money out of his shower knob one night as if it were an ATM. Actually he may have just sleepwalked that night, in all fairness. And I’m not sure the incident had anything to do with his writing.
I have a few quirks of my own – come to think of it – when in the creative mode, like perching on my bed, laptop in front, and wearing nothing more than a pair of dangling earrings and matching panties (not the dangling part, I’m talking colors). And I also have a dog that takes in a few new words a day with his morning coffee. Does that count? Because if this doesn’t make me a writer, I don’t know what does!
If you’re here for the recipes, you must be in a real pickle thinking “How will she ever get to food after this intro???” Well, my friend, I’ll tell you a secret… Sit down, breathe and relax. I’ll be gentle… The truth is that FOOD is just an excuse to write. It’s a side effect. It’s a symptom, and not a cause. Luckily, I really do truly and fully, passionately and madly love to play in my kitchen. I’m keen to use various toys – or cooking utensils if you must – with those kinky names like a cooling rack, an egg separator, a whip whisk, not to mention a meat tenderizer, and a piping bag… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Today I’ll write about PESTO: how I make it without cheese, and how I then mix it with a salad in the place of a dressing. And the only toy tool I need for this is a food processor, well, and a toaster oven. Now, if you don’t have one of those smart ones that can also broil and sweep floors (There she goes again!), a frying pan makes for a capable ersatz. I only ask you to bear with me when I get to the amounts and measurements. It really is my Achilles Heel, my pet peeve if you will. I chronically forget to use my measuring cups and spoons when fixing a new dish, and later, when I try to retrace my own steps to tell you all about it, I’m fucked.
FROM WIKIPEDIA: “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, or interjection and can logically be used as virtually any word in a sentence (e.g. “Fuck the fucking fuckers”). It hence has various metaphorical meanings. The verb “to be fucked” can mean “to be cheated” (e.g. “I got fucked by a scam artist”). As a noun “a fuck” or “a fucker” may describe a contemptible person. “A fuck” may mean an act of copulation. The word can be used as an interjection, and its participle is sometimes used as a strong emphatic. The verb to fuck may be used transitively or intransitively, and it appears in compounds, including fuck off, fuck up, and fuck with. In less explicit usages, “fuck” or “fuck with” can mean to mess around, or to deal with unfairly or harshly. In a phrase such as “don’t give a fuck”, the word is the equivalent of “damn”, in the sense of something having little value. In “what the fuck”, it serves merely as an intensive.
ALSO, YOUTUBE OFFERS ITS OWN DEFINITION OF THE WORD “FUCK”.
To make pesto sans cheese, first you want to toast some nuts. Traditionally pesto is made with pignoli, or pine nuts in English. However, recently I made pesto with walnuts due to lack of the other kind. It came out perfectly awesome. Hence, today, be my guest and use either one – pine or walnuts! And if you feel adventurous and end up experimenting with another type of nuts, come back here and do tell!
Back to PESTO: take ABOUT a 1/2 cup of raw, organic if available, pine nuts and spread them flat on a baking sheet. Then set the pan in a toaster oven and toast for about 5 minutes. If you’re going for the frying pan, or even a conventional oven (at 375 to 400˚), it will take 3 to 7 minutes (depending on which appliance you choose) before the nuts are done. You’ll know they are when you can smell them. You must then instantly remove the kernels from the oven or off the heat. Otherwise, due to the fat content, they will burn in a New York minute.
Once the nuts cool off, dump them into the food processor along with a BUNCH of fresh basil (maybe a cup?…or two? sorry!), 1-2 cloves of garlic (However much you LOVE garlic?), a SOLID PINCH of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and you can close the lid. Now pulse a couple of times to break down the nuts and greens and bring them closer together.
By the way, basil is not your only choice. You can also use arugula, and even mix it with other fresh herbs like dill, Italian parsley and cilantro.
Turn the machine back on and start pouring GOOD olive oil s l o w l y through the feeding tube. For pesto, I use the brands from a higher shelf, good quality, organic oils. You can use extra virgin olive oil on its own, or mix it with flaxseed oil, or even walnut oil for a different spin. How much, you ask. Ekhm. I say pour until all ingredients are incorporated into a coherent green mass. Be gentle, go slow with a small stream. If you like it chunkier and thicker, back off with that bottle earlier. Better be safe than sorry. Test it, and then add some more oil, if needed.
No matter what I tell you about measurements (as long as I’m not selling you a baking recipe) it’s essential, no, it is your duty to taste whatever you make as you go. Remember, YOU are going to eat it. YOU are the one that needs to enjoy what you make. And the more you taste during the process, the more familiar you become with certain spices, their flavors and properties. Hence, you train your tongue to tell you when something doesn’t tickle it the right way, directing you to add more of this or that. The more you sample, the better cook you become.
When done adding the oil, your pesto is ready. However, if you don’t mind the cheese, and those few extra calories mean nothing to you, go ahead and add half a cup or grated Parmesan. Pulse a few more times and mix it with the green paste – make it feel good. Store it in a tight container in the refrigerator. You can also add a tablespoon of oil to cover the surface of the pesto, thus preventing it from turning dark.
I use it on sandwiches, wraps, with pasta (duh), and in salads as a dressing. Simply, mix soft lettuce leaves with diced tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, chopped dill and scallions, add a tablespoon or so of the pesto, and unite everybody with a few circular motions of your salad forks. Don’t forget to season it with salt and pepper, if your pesto doesn’t do the trick. It’s all about sampling, thus learning how to please your own palette.
Here is a good spot for a photograph representing the PESTO described above.
Oops, no picture on file. In the state of utmost confusion and discombobulation, I forgot to snap one while the PESTO was still in the fridge. However, know that this article leads to a complimenting installment, which will talk about PITA POCKETS WITH GRILLED SALMON AND PESTO DRESSED SALAD. There will be photos!
See you then?