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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!

Thesaurus

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?

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Earlier today I was driving, blinded by the hammering rain, and as wipers ran frantically across the windshield, and I slid along the highway, I slipped into a contemplative mood. Then I thought to myself…as a child, after you’d learnt of the Earth’s rotation, did you ever think that it rained when the planet was upside-down? As if the seas and oceans poured out of their reservoirs? Yeah, me neither.

And then I remembered last night’s dinner… Now, can we please talk about that STEAK?! Or – in other words – the ULTIMATE COOKING TEST that I passed less then 24 hours ago …thank-you-very-much? Yes, let’s talk about that.

If you’ve followed me around for the last couple of months (or even a few days but managed to go through most of the articles) you must have noticed that I write a lot about chicken and not so much about other meats. There are reasons for that. Primo, there’s still plenty of time to cover all sorts of omnivores’ dilemmas. Secundo, I not only talk chicken but also cook chicken on most occasions. Each week, we interweave poultry with fish and vegetarian meals to keep our dinners versatile, healthy, and clean. Maybe it’s the fact that I lived my life vegan style for so many years before, that it took me so long to even open my eyes in the presence of red meat, not to mention putting IT in my mouth. I do not know.

However, last weekend Jason and I went to Whole Foods and he sweet-talked me into buying some fresh, organic beef fillets. We spent almost 30 smackers on two nuggets of cow meat, each about 2” thick. Having close to zero experience with beef, and intimidated by the price tag, you can only imagine the stress level I was under when prepping the dinner last night.

I knew there was no fooking around when it comes to raw meat. I also knew I needed to consult the best. So I turn on the TV and scroll down the recordings on our Tivo hoping to find one useful cooking show amongst the dozens I saved. YES! There she is! Ina Garten herself stands right there, in front of my eyes, ready to walk me through roasting a sirloin beef fillet “Barefoot Contessa” style.

One leads to another…

Eagerly following her guidelines, I mix about a tablespoon of room temperature butter with a tablespoon of Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce (she asked for Dijon Mustard). I wash my two beef nuggets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Ina says: preheat an oven to 500˚. I turn on our toaster oven. It’s a fancy little box – highly dexterous and able to multitask at that. Not only does it toast our toast, it irons our shirts, gives foot massages, bakes, bikes, and then heats up to a breathtaking 500˚ and serves as a broiler.

Given the choice between a big spacious oven that takes time to heat up, thus sucking proportionally more energy, and a compact and eco-friendly toaster oven, which does Agi take? Of course I go for the latter. But first, I rub the mustard-butter mixture all over my steaks, sprinkle evenly with salt and crushed black pepper (as Ina told me to), and shove both into the fancy toaster oven-slash-foot massager.

Here comes the tricky part, and the most crucial one when it comes to cooking meat period. The question of …HOW LONG? When Ina dances in front of the camera with her block of premium cow cut, she makes the task look as simple as putting your foot on a gas pedal and pushing. Easy, right? But what will she tell all the flustered cooks at home who have not only hit the dining room wall, but also drove through it and into the neighbor’s stack of hay? Hey, what will you say then, Ina?

You see, everything looks perfect on the TV screen, but I’m stuck at home with those two shits of red meat, the very expensive kind, all battered up and ready to dance in the fire. Ina says to give it 20-25 minutes in the oven until the fillet reaches 120˚. Then to wrap it with aluminum foil and let it rest for another quarter of an hour before you make the first cut. She then slices it and makes Roast Beef Sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce and Arugula.

Are you kidding me?

Here’s what Agi does. I let both chunks of meat, generously coated and well seasoned, broil away in the scorching hot toaster. I walk on eggshells pacing around the box. I peek through the little smudgy window, but the darkness within prevents me from getting any feedback. I mumble a few prayers in Polish that I remember from my early days, retrieve a flashlight from our goodie-drawer in the bedroom and shine a light on the sweaty guys.

Steaks in the Oven

I check the clock as if my life depends on it. I do the math in my crazy head and figure it should take less time for my small baby fillets in that little toaster oven. Hence, 13 minutes into this melodrama, I’m on the verge of pulling my hair and spitting all my teeth out into a handkerchief. I can’t take it any longer and pull out the tray with the toddlers. I stick a thermometer into one of them and let my eyeballs follow the mercury rise up to 120, wait, 130, oh no! it keeps going up to 140˚. Suddenly it stops, takes a breath, and picks up again before settling at 143 degrees Fahrenheit! What did Ina say?? One hundred twenty degrees was all it was supposed to reach. Damn it! And I tried so hard… I’m devastated. My hope that stood breathless in the corner for all this time now burst and evaporated along with the aroma of freshly roasted meat.

With my shoulders hanging down by my hips, and my mouth curved upside down in sadness and utter disappointment, I continue assembling the dinner for Jason who should arrive home any minute now. With a tear lingering in the corner of my eye, I cook a little pasta and make a quick Marinara Sauce. In another pot, Brussels sprouts steam themselves for the heck of it. The meat just hangs out in the cooling toaster, very confused and unsure of its future.

When my honey walks in through the kitchen door, I finish plating our meal and walk him straight to the dining room with an ambivalent expression on my face. He reads me like an open book:

–       It didn’t work out? Don’t worry, baby. You don’t even like red meat. I don’t have to have a steak. And if I crave it one day, I’ll just go out. It’s really not a big deal. And you know I love everything else that you make. I guess red meat is just not your thing. And THAT’S OK!

–       Booo-hooo …! – is all I have in me in response.

We sit down and with obvious hesitation take the first bite. Hmmm… Without uttering a single word, Jason hums and moans, wiggles his rear end in the chair, throws his eyebrows up and down, and as he swallows the rest of the bite he exclaims:

–       This is FANTASTIC! This is what I call a STEAK. This is perfect! Baby, I have no words… You are an amazing COOK.

–       This thing really IS good. Wow. I can’t believe it. I have just lost my flower. I’m no longer a STEAK VIRGIN! – I reply dumbfounded.

With each bite, I fall deeper and deeper in love with the golden nugget of steak I brought to life with my very hands. It’s a medium rare perfection with the smoky flavor of mustard, and as soft and juicy as the melted butter it was cooked in. The crazy part? It was broiled inside our smart, GREEN, multifunctional toaster oven!!!

Who knew?

Steak Dinner

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