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Thanksgiving 2011!!

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Every now and then, life goes crazy, right? That’s where Shiv and I have both been for a couple months now. I’ve barely had time to put my dinner order in on Seamlessweb every night, much less actually cook for myself. Still, time stops for no chef, and we find ourselves in the middle of prep- for Thanksgiving 2011! (hooray!)

Even if we’re not live-blogging the event this go-round (at one point, we had dreams of video coverage — alas), we couldn’t let the occasion go by without wishing everyone the very happiest of holidays! And as long as I’m here, I can’t resist creating a quick record of the very best quotes from the day’s cooking. Enjoy, and I hope you all can raise a glass to the approaching end of another year, and a whole raft of things for which you can be thankful. :D

Wednesday:

10:30 am
“Are we in the middle of hearing pie happen?”

1:30 pm
“So do you do those stretches down on your forearms?”
“Four arms? No, just the two.”

2:30 pm
“I’m in an anti-aspic phase right now.”
“Um…have you ever, EVER been in a *pro*-aspic phase?”

4:00 pm
“Mmmmmm. Ham broth.”

5:30 pm
“I…think we’re done with knives for the night?”

7:00 pm
“Why the FUCK don’t we just use the TART PAN.”
“How did we not THINK of that?!?”
“I don’t know, we’re not drunk enough to be this spacy yet!”

7:05 pm
“Ooh, an artichoke. I will nibble on you.”

10:00 pm
“MOIST PANTY SNACKS. THERE. I SAID IT.”

11:00 pm
“OK, dishwasher. You’ve made your point.”

Unexpected places: Pork Chops Normandy

When I was twenty-five, I took an epic driving trip from the top of France to the bottom of Spain; it was a revelatory experience in more ways than one. Having previously only traveled to Paris, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by all the delights that France had to offer: the slow but incessant variety in the flora, the subtle variations in accent and architecture. It was a neverending list of epic delights for a creature so visual as myself.

poke

And then there was the food.

For reasons unknown, until this trip I hadn’t quite clocked that there was no such thing as capital-F-French cuisine–that what we think of as French cooking is really a greatest hits collection of regional cuisines, gleaned from throughout the whole place. From the poultry-centric delights of the Perigord region (hello, foie gras!) to the citrus and fish of the Cote d’Azur, French cuisine is honestly as varied as everything else in the country–and just as complex, lovely, and unexpected. It made quite the impression on quarter-life me.

applesonions

Thinking about that the other day, I found myself wanting to recreate a dish that I’d eaten not in La Belle France, but in a dive-ish bar in Baltimore, MD. The place itself (whose name unfortunately escapes me–I promise to get back to you on this) was completely unassuming, but the food utterly spectacular. The dish in question was called pork chops Normandy, and it was no joke. Fat, delicious pork chops perfectly cooked with apples, onions, thyme and brandy, it was sufficiently delicious that I kind of regretted sharing it with Doctor Boyfriend. It was the perfect ambassador for the flavors of the region (Normandy is noted for apples and calvados, among other things), allowing the rich sweetness of the apples and the savory growl of the onions to shine through. Just the memory of it makes me hungry, so it was a no-brainer to try it out in my own kitchen.

I cannot stress strongly enough that you do the same. It takes one pan and about 45 minutes to make this happen, from the caramelization of the onions to the braising of the chops; it’s simple and straightforward, but tastes like it took you three days. Never let on that it didn’t.

Read on…

Hurricane Party: White Velvet (lemon) Cake

It’s a little embarrassing, but it is undoubtedly true: we city mice get a little het up when Mother Nature decides to throw a fit. We forget, here in our concrete and glass eyries, that her wrath is mighty, indeed; and so, when she gets angry, we tend to freak out just a little, because we have NO IDEA what to do. And so, we improvise (once we stop wringing our hands). If you’re the MTA, that means you shut down. If you’re a normal human being, you lay in a supply of water and canned goods. If you are a ridiculous human being, you stock up on vodka and cigarettes. If you are DOUBLE ridiculous, you go out into the storm with a cake.

Guess which category I fell in.

cake

Well, what was I supposed to do? It was the first birthday of the world’s cutest baby. Like I could possibly let that go by unmarked? Pssh. No no. Little C was going to have birthday cake, no matter what Irene had to say about it! And so, I spent the beginning of my hurricane shepherding a pearlescent, violet-covered lemon cake down to south Brooklyn. I was the recipient of a surprising amount of commentary on the way from fans of my “hurricane cake” (Personal favorite: “Yeah, that’s right! We’re New Yorkers! Irene can’t take away our cake, am I right?”); never let it be said that Brooklyn doesn’t know how to appreciate baked goods.

The journey, however, was not the complicated part. The complicated part was digging up a recipe for lemon cake that would satisfy me. You may have gathered by now that I am…the slightest bit persnickety when it comes to cake. I want it dense. I want it moist. I don’t want any of this airy-fairy sponge cake bullshit. No no. I want cake with HEFT. However, there aren’t a lot of white cakes out there that fit the bill; as such, I’m sure you can imagine my elation when I stumbled across a recipe for white velvet cake(!). Given my well-documented obsession with red velvet cake, I could not help but take the discovery of this recipe as a sign from the heavens–and I am going to stick with that assessment.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

You see, this cake was, in a word, BODACIOUS. Honestly. Rich, moist, flavorful, just-dense-enough…completely amenable to a little last minute citrus-related transmogrification… Without question, my new go-to white cake. With. Out. Question. Little C’s mama, Lady A, has remarked on more than one occasion that this cake has been haunting her dreams–it’s that good. Which it is. It really, really is.

Which I guess is the silver lining to an entire city being completely unprepared for a hurricane: fewer people out and about with whom to fight over the last slice!

Read on…

The Manliest Dinner: Steak au Poivre and Garlic Fries

Objectively speaking, this was definitely the manliest meal I think I’ve ever cooked. Beef, potatoes, and fire. Sure, it also had a dollop of Dijon, and some cute little diced up shallots. And parsley. I will admit, the parsley lowers the manly rating a little bit. But for a guy who just wants to make some totally manly man food for a nice romantic dinner with his boyfriend, this totally takes the cake. (Also there was cake. Cake Batter ice cream. For dessert.)

photo-5

I actually started with the recipe for the fries, which I came across online and instantly fell in love with. I made a few modifications (as I tend to do) and ended up with possibly the second-best taters I’ve ever had, just behind the Mascarpone and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes that are my standard for Thanksgiving. Certainly these were the best fries, and I am thinking of trying it again with home-style-cut potatoes for a really easy side dish. I added Dijon as a last minute inspiration, and I think it helped both to adhere the bits of garlic to the fries, as well as mellow out any potential oiliness. Now, for a main to go along with, my lovely dinner guest was actually the one to suggest steak au poivre.

photo-6

I had never cooked a steak stovetop, and had also never had an opportunity to light a pan on fire, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to do both. The result was epically good: a gorgeous sear on the outside, absolutely melting tender on the inside. The peppercorns were neither too…peppery, or too crunchy, like I was a little worried about. Bashing them into submission with the bottom of my mortar did the trick — which I tried after I found out that bashing them with a pestle in the mortar was, frankly, never ever ever going to work. Let’s hear it for the miracle of plastic baggies + heavy things, shall we?

photo-7

I will say that lighting a pan on fire was exactly as fun as I suspected it would be. However: if you’re using a cast iron skillet like I was, remember that if the recipe tells you to “shake the pan vigorously until the flames subside,” it is significantly more difficult with a pan that weighs 20 pounds. The effort was worth it, though; cast iron is hands down my favorite surface to use if I’m trying to get a beautiful crust on something, and there is nothing that beats it for even heat. You may just want to stretch a little before all that vigorous exercise. Besides, I said this was the manliest dinner, didn’t I? Be tough! And remember that you too can have an ice cream sundae when the work is all over.

Read on…

Easy eating green: Chana Saag

I joke about it, but it’s absolutely true: I am a difficult little bird to schedule. I try not to complain about it too much because it is, without question, my own damn fault; however, it is at times incredibly inconvenient, particularly when it starts to interfere with my ability to get into some quality mischief. Example: earlier this year, I was contacted by some lovely folks at the Institute of Culinary Education, who asked if I would be interested in attending and writing about one of their classes at some point this summer. Rating low on the idiocy scale (usually), I jumped at the chance! After much hemming and hawing, I signed up for a class in dumplings and sat back to rub my hands with glee.

And then my schedule exploded, as it so often does in mid-June, and I was forced to cancel. Gutted.

chana-1

Now, if I were the ICE, I would have dropped my complicated self by the side of the road right there. But, mercifully, they are far more patient than I and gave me an opportunity to reschedule. Which is how I found myself stoically braving a Sunday monsoon to attend a class in Indian cookery.

I’d never actually attended a cooking class before, so walking through the door I was hit with a double whammy of performance anxiety–were my skills sufficient to avoid humiliating myself, and would I actually be able to cook something delicious without blowing up the kitchen? Mercifully, the answer to both was yes. The class catered to all different skill levels, and gave a good enough grounding in the basics that I went home feeling moderately confident about riffing on some of the dishes–which is how I ended up making chana saag last Tuesday night.

chanasaag2

The biggest surprise about the chana saag was how EASY it was–if you have a food processor, it will take somewhere in the vicinity of 30-40 minutes (most of that being onion caramelizing duty). I’d been laboring under the delusion that all Indian food requires at least a zillion years to do up in a tasty fashion; turns out, I was wrong, which is really the best thing I got out of the class: the realization that I can no longer blame my insane-o-bot schedule for eating badly. Which may or may not turn out to be a double edged sword; I’ll let you know once I’ve managed to find two seconds to think about it.

(You can read more about my adventures at the ICE over at their blog, DICED!)

Read on…



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