Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happily Eating Ribeye

He had her at charcoal grilled ribeye. She cut into the still sizzling steak, a perfect bite of mesquite-flavored Iowa meat, perfectly outfitted with nearly melted marbly-fat. It was a simple dish and a simple preparation but it revealed her future. The man knew his meat. He cooked. He walked two stories from his rented apartment to a cheap grill pilled up with hot mesquite coals thinking this was the only way to cook a well-selected cut. She thought that was the only way too.

Only six days earlier, the Prince picked up the foreign Princess in a bar. She still remembers what he wore, and what she wore. On that August night, in a place named Citrus that has since closed, the Prince walked confidently to the foreign Princess and asked her what language she was speaking. Young and anti-American, she tested both his patience and his knowledge replying "Romanian, and I bet you have no idea where Romania is." A couple of drinks in, uninhibited, he showed her he knew.They met the next evening, and every night until the ribeye. The morning arrived and off she jetted to the Motherland with a heavy heart and a burning desire for more ribeye. As he lost sight of her at the airport, he planned his journey. Days seemed like years, but less then three weeks later he landed in Bucharest. He was not going to leave empty-handed. After the ceremonious time with the family and visiting of the countyside, the duo decided to take a chance on each other.

Three months after the ribeye, and ten years today, the Prince and the foreign Princess drove to City Hall wearing jeans. With no pomp or fuss, they got married and told no one. A wedding, a baby princess, several graduations, some wars, many travels and countless meals together, they are still working on the life-long project called 'happily ever after.'

Happy 10th to the ribeye Prince. As for the rest of you, I dare you to top that story!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Alone, Never Lonely in My Kitchen

I pressed the widest part of my knife onto the wooden cutting board and felt the peel ease off from the garlic clove. With the same motion, I gently smashed the rest of the cloves then peeled the skins off. The crush of the knife released the garlic oils onto my skin. I knew I'd smell it for hours. My feet ached from standing for too long, so I rocked my weight from one side to the other and kept on peeling. The olive oil coated the bottom of the pan and warmed gently, the garlic slowly started to cook before juicy fragrant tomatoes drowned them and stole their flavor, making it their own. And then it took hours, hours of patience, of stirring, of smelling, of taking it all in.

More than once I sat over a pot and hypnotized myself with the slow swirl of a wooden spoon inside the pot. I watched as kale shrunk down, polenta grains puffed up, tomato sauce thickened up, and tens of identically cut cubes of zucchini softened up. I live for the process and all the sensory experiences that came along with it.

The gentle bubble of a stew cooking calmly, pocket of air after pocket of air bursting into the most imperceptible sound. The sight of that elusive wave of steam disappearing into the air over a simmering pot. The hum of the fan inside the hot oven. The graceful dancer's move of the knife rocking back and forth, nose still on the cutting board, piercing a layer of pecans, inaudibly clanking on the wooden cutting board. The thrill of washing the blade of a sharp knife, tips of my fingers running slow strokes on its edge, trusting it won't hurt me. The scent of ground cardamon, grated nutmeg, minced ginger, crushed coriander- all strong enough to wake your senses, make you open your eyes a little wider to see what is going on around you.

Alone, but never lonely, I share my space with people I see in my dishes- in that red terrine dish I am crazy about, in the vinegar a special friend brought me, in the rose water I bought for a special recipe. I share my experience in the way I chop, in my commitment to straining, in my habit of rinsing rice three times before I cook it- never lonely.

This is an entirely selfish experience, one that makes a lot of sense around the holidays. Not one sound or distraction in the house, but the occasional look at my cell phone, I am in a space that is just mine. In silence, perfectly organized, cleaning continuously, peeling, searing, chopping, trussing, simmering or mixing, alone I am having my moment with cooking - my affair, my quiet time. I cook for me, for the process more than the result, for the experience more that the final product. And it works. Try it.

Tomato Sauce, a stress-relieving recipe

Ingredients: 1/2 cup olive oil; 6 cloves of garlic, peeled; two 28 ounce cans of San Marzano tomatoes; 1 teaspoon fine sea salt; 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.

Over a medium flame, warm up the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic cloves and stir for about 10 minutes until the garlic softens and begins to color.

Pour the tomatoes in and stir the salt into the mixture. Let it simmer for about an hour over medium-low heat then crush the now-softened tomatoes in the pot with a masher or other similar object. Stir well and let it continue to simmer for about 3 hours. Pack it in your desire jars, keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for a few months. Or use it as a gift.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cookie Swaps or Not

The beauty of the blog is that I get to make my rules. No editorial calendars, no word limits, no deadlines or harsh cuts and changes. I don't have to do anything. I don't include sidebars of ads because I couldn't stomach the thought of lacking control over it. I don't post more often because I obsess too much over what I write. And I never plug products or people I don't full-heartedly support because I don't have to.

I let my whims and my heart drive the content of the blog just like I let it drive most other parts of my life. I do what feels right and sometimes, like this time, that coincides with the possible editorial calendar. This week is all about cookies and cookie swaps, perhaps about homemade gifts. There are, however, problems with this- at least for me. I am not a baker - I am a cook. I am not a traditional cookie lover- I just don't get them. I am not a swapper - I am too afraid won't like what I get in return.

But as irrationally terrified as I am of baking, I am a homemade gift-giver and I always do it from the heart. So I set my heart on baking. I love biscotti and, unlike some real life relationships, it is mutual. Biscotti love me back - by which I mean they actually turn out when I bake them. More proof of this love affair: they turn out when I pull the rug from under myself and change the recipes. This time I wanted to focus on the ingredient I was obsessing over: peanut butter.

Make them, eat them, swap or gift them, but no matter what you do, do it from the heart.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Ingredients: 1/3 cup unsalted butter (room temperature); 2/3 cup freshly ground peanut butter, ½ cup sugar; 1 large egg; 1 ¼ plus 2 tablespoons flour; ½ teaspoon baking powder; a pinch of kosher salt; 1/3 cup Valrhona chocolate 70%, chopped coarsely.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. In a large bowl, cream with an electric mixer the butter and sugar until it begins to stick to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the egg and mix well.

Over the butter/sugar mixture, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Bring it all together with your hands without actually working the dough. Gentle loving mixing motion - don't squeeze and don't manhandle.

Add the chocolate chips and keeping in mind that you are not trying to work this tender dough, knead again until just incorporated.

Place the mixture on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two halves. Form two logs from your dough and roll them to fit nearly the entire length of a cookie sheet. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 25 minutes and remove from the oven. Turn the temperature down to 300. Allow the biscotti to slightly cool then cut them diagonally into 3/4 inch pieces. Return them to the baking sheet and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Pack them up and do what your heart tells you to do with them- sometimes it will tell you to just eat them, and that is alright too. Happy baking!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.