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Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

15 Apr

I have become a firm believer in celebrating life’s little wins. There’s nothing like a bottle of sparkling wine to transform a Thursday night from the final day in the weekend countdown into an evening worthy of savoring.

Depending on on how many people you’ve invited to your personal pop-up party, you may wind up with some leftover less-than-bubbly. After all, this is a weekday indulgence – and waking up with a brick on your forehead would pretty much defeat the purpose. So rather than pour that extra glitter (that one’s for you, @itsamich!) to waste, why not use that last bit of liquid gold to elevate your next meal with effortless elegance?

Wanting to capture the richness of celebratory flavor without decimating any semblance of virtuosity – and yes, also having just dropped a $20 on a lusciously extravagant non-neccesity – I decided to make a champagne risotto so as to make going the meat-free route easy. I consulted Cooking Light, which I’ve come to rely on as a resource for expert shortcuts to lighten up heavy favorites, where I found a basic recipe from which I gave myself the freedom to improvise. The recipe uses feta cheese to provide the risotto’s requisite creaminess, reserving the parm as a topping, where it will leave a lingering taste impact for minimal calories.

Weeknight-chic champagne risotto.

As I hovered over my stovetop leisurely laboring over this notorious attention-hog of a classic, I  was viscerally struck with a memory of my first attempt at risotto. Now the stuff of culinary legend amongst my beautiful and amazing roommates of the time, it’s pretty incredible to think back on that Sunday evening almost four years ago when to cook what I thought was the ultimate in classy family dinner  I donned a sparkly thriftstore dress and secondhand heels, dumped some stuff in a nonstick sautee pan over very barely there heat, and an hour later served raw rice to my nearest dearest.

Some things never change - I've always been prone to the kitchen dance party.

While I can’t say I do much Sunday afternoon “menu planning” while throwing back Baileys’ at the Gold Cane these days, I guess it’s not quite fair to say I’ve just discovered the value of turning the ordinary into the revelatory. Four years and a dozen or so risottos later, it just looks – and thankfully, tastes – more than a little different.

Where would we be without Facebook? Spring 2008.

Weeknight-Chic Champagne Risotto

*Adapted from Cooking Light’s Champagne-Feta Risotto; I also doubled the recipe so we would have leftovers. The champagne and the feta infuse this rich dish with a tanginess perfectly cut by interlaced  sweet peas and economically bulked up with some spinach.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 9 for a serving size of 1 cup risotto, topped with grated parm cheese; This recipe will make 8 WWP+ servings (or, 2 – 3 Katie servings and 5 – 6 Moh servings)

  • 2 cans of fat free chicken broth (note: you could easily use veggie stock and make this vegetarian. I think canned veggie broth has a weird, tinny flavor that detracts from finished dishes but it’s so easy to make your own – just boil some carrots and onions with salt for a while and then strain it – I think it’s worth it.)
  • a shake or two of some dried herb of choice – I used oregano
  • however much champagne you have left – between 3/4 cup and 2 cups will probably work best*
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 cups of arborio rice
  • 1 6-oz. container of crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful or two of frozen peas
  • a cup or two of chopped spinach (I used fresh but frozen would work fine)

*Quality Control Note: While it doesn’t matter so much for the cooking, do yourself right when you’re toasting you. You don’t have to break out the Veuve, but please don’t defeat the purpose and settle for Andres – I find Mumm Napa, a few steps up from Cook’s, a solid compromise.

  1. Combine the chicken broth, the herb and some of the champagne (you’ll want to save 3/4 – 1 cup, so just use whatever else you have – you can also add some white wine if you have an open bottle), along with a cup or so of water, in a pot. Bring to a low, steady simmer (don’t boil).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven (ideally, you want something ceramic or with a pretty thick bottom. tee hee.) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and toast for a couple minutes, stirring so that each baby grain gets some heat loving.
  3. Pour the champagne over the rice. Enjoy the hiss. Stir until it has been completely soaked up. When it has, add a cup of the simmering broth. Repeat. Just keep on repeating and, as Marcella Hazan my Italian demigoddess advises, start tasting after about 15 minutes.
  4. When it’s just about done – which is when the rice is still a bit chewy and toothsome but resting within a fluffy cloud of soft deliciousness – rinse your frozen peas under warm water for a minute, shake them dry, and add them. Stir in and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the feta and stir well.
  6. Add the chopped spinach and stir well.
  7. Top each portion with grated parm cheese and serve alongside a simple green salad (I just did balsamic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice).

Don't worry, this is a baby first helping 🙂

Aside

Taking the Guilt out of Guilty Pleasures

6 Apr

There’s nothing like a rapidly approaching wedding date to make a gal think twice about what she’s stuffing in her mouth. Truth be told, I hadn’t felt good about how I looked – or felt – since long before we booked City Hall. The balance between indulgence and sturdy choices I had worked so hard to cultivate over years of precarious swings back and forth in either direction had slowly, slowly slipped through my grasp as a year of major milestones sped by faster and faster.

It was easy for me to say no to the bowl of Tootsie Roll Pops in the office kitchen when I could think – will this be worth an extra pound as I pose for pictures bound for posterity on my (future) living room wall? The hard part is now, when it’s back to the everyday – when work feels like work, when I’m procrastinating or waiting for the hubs to come home from his unenviable library marathons, when I’m depressed over Craigslist listings foreboding of my impending banishment to the boonies (aka, the Richmond. Especially then.).

While it’s clear I love me some decadence, I’ve come to realize that  a chin-dribbling, sauce-slicked burger tastes even better when it’s truly a treat – not a weekly routine over which I’ll feel routinely guilty. So, to help myself to that extra serving of accountability I so crave, I’ve started writing an Examiner.com column featuring localized tips on making better food and fitness choices – all, naturally, while thoroughly enjoying each and every precious Weight Watchers Point Plus.

I’ll be aiming to post weekly here: http://www.examiner.com/weight-loss-in-san-francisco/katie-clark

For your easy clicking pleasure, if you’d care to take a gander at what I’ve posted thus far:

So, what’s in it for you? Why of course, dear readers, this means that my beloved blog has become  the new home of all those delicious, drool-worthy, decidedly un-weight loss friendly secret delights – so stay tuned 🙂

"Doughnut & a Shot" compliments of Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen on my family's pre-wedding dinner - well worth the splurge.

The Joys of Moving

10 Jul

Moving. The very word evokes groans, sympathy, shudders, headaches. The curse of being an urbanite in your twenties seems to be that you’ll pack the crap you somehow managed to amass in a seemingly tiny amount of time on a seemingly tiny budget into cardboard liquor boxes with the same frequency you blow out birthday candles.

Until now, I’ve avoided the dreaded repack by avoiding the unpack.This time around, bolstered by immersion in Apartment Therapy and Philz Coffee, I’ve decided to turn my shoebox studio into a home.

Yes, I meant that literally... thank you, artist formerly known as Murphy bed.

For me, the heart of any home is its kitchen (though clearly, I started with the sole of this one).

I get herbs with a little help from my friends... Thank you, Su Su 🙂

So, I’ve spent the last month’s worth of weekends trekking down the hill from my new Nob Hill pad (happily Muni pass-free), tossing the ingredients of a well-stocked life into a series of SF-approved reusable bags as I go. And because whether you’re just moving in or already thinking of moving out there’s nothing like a little something new to spice up the domestic routine, here are the five essential Sunday shopping stops to make you feel truly settled into your humble abode.

  1. Heart of the City Farmers Market: I love this place as much for the unassuming way it takes the snobbery out of Northern California produce as for the cheap heaps of berries, squashes and greens themselves. Nestled between the glistening grime of the Tenderloin and the graffitied glory of mid-Market Street, I can only imagine the characters HOTC has fed over its 30+ years, more colorful even than the $1 afternoon bunches of cheerful carnations. Visit with a travel mug of home-brewed Philz and breathe in the smells of artisan olive oils mingled with the stench of dirty it’s-clear-what rising off a heated Market Street sidewalk, and you know you’ve truly arrived in San Francisco.

    Philz & Plowerz

  2. Kamei Restaurant Supply: I’ve quickly grown to love the minimalism required by studio life. Economy of space not exactly being an American virtue, traditional sources like Target have turned out to be severely lacking when it comes to getting more out of less stuff. It’s the Chinese to the rescue, with wares from an ingenious double-decker drying rack to beautiful bamboo cutting boards on hooks to immaculate bone china in asymmetrical cuts and hand-painted patterns.

    A dishrack as silly as it is sensible. Clearly, after my own heart.


  3. The Container Store: OK I’m caught, despite my righteous Target-bashing I am a huge fan of certain purely American indulgences, this evidently Texas-based, mid-box establishment being one of them. Where else can you create a make-your-own-spice-rack or find a sliding plastic mug-hanger? Never fear, when the fabulosuly bespectacled employees start to recognize you on your third trip in as many weeks, they judge not but instead see a kindred spirit drawn to this homeware oasis tucked illogically smack in the middle of Powell Street tourist madness.

    Who doesn't love a mug on a mug?

  4. The bargain bins: My life-long love affair with cheap shopping is genetic. More than one family member cried when Caldor went out of business. Yes, I wish I was kidding too. While I’ve long been acquainted with TJ Maxx and Marshalls, Ross, with a kitchen department that puts Sur La Table to bloated-price-tag shame, is a new West Coast fling. These are the spots to scour for all things Cuisinart and Kitchenaid. Who says you can’t be a price-conscious brand snob?

    You can take the girl out of Connecticut, but you can't take the rag rug out of the girl.

  5. Sunfat Seafood Co.: When Moh saw what I was willing to fork over at my new local hardware store for things like S-hooks (to hang my shoes, obviously), he decided it was time to introduce me to the Mission Street dollar store row. Giant plastic bags full of 40 necessities for $40 later, we were ready to cash in on the rewards of our sensical spree… and found ourselves conveniently (ok I planned it) across the street from Sunfat Seafood. Browsing bins of 30 different kinds of oysters with names as varied as their rainbow shells of briny sea blues, greens and purples, there is no better way to remember that all this shopping is just a means to an end – breaking in your new kitchen with your first home-cooked meal.

If you’re as lucky as I am, it’s an end filled with seafood and Sofia rose.

So delicious we barely noticed we had to eat standing up because I didn't have stools yet. Very European, no?

Food is Love

17 Mar

A former boss and dear friend used to say Food is Love. She would leave the office long after the rest of us (who were no strangers to the midnight oil)  had  cleared out and return the next day with a homemade birthday cake that so embodied the person she was baking for I’d tell her she should stop doing PR for the food and just make it for a living. But even though the gorgeous-as-it-was-delicious chocolate peanut butter cup cake (not to be confused with a cupcake) she made me for my first birthday on the West Coast warmed my long-distance heart, I’d missed the point.

Food is love not because you make a hobby of searching for the city’s best pumpkin curry or because your job perks include free Madagascar vanilla bean pods and an excuse to learn everything there is to know about Wine Spectator’s scoring system. Food is love because sometimes, when the world has slipped beyond your control and you can’t bear to see the people you would give anything for in pain, you take all that pent up hurt and everything you wish you could give them and pour your whole heart and whole-nutrient vegetables into a Dutch oven. It might be because  you don’t know what else to do, and the currency of circumstance might be dollars, but I truly believe that when what you put in your body comes from your heart you can feel it in your soul.

Some terrible things have happened to wonderful people in my life since I last wrote. Some even more horrible things have happened to people I don’t know by name – regime after regime in the Middle East gunning down its own people, the earth’s foundation erupting, wiping out lives and all their structures to be followed by a man-made horror whose consequences we may not even grasp within our lifetime. To try to make sense of any one of these things is staggering. But each shard of inevitability reminds me we have nothing but who we are and what we do today.

Reading an article in this week’s New York Times about the outpouring of monetary support for Japan’s relief efforts when they’re financially OK made me think about something a soup kitchen director told me when I first looked into volunteer opportunities around Thanksgiving. It’s the one day they’re overstaffed. If you really want to make a difference, come in on any one of the other 364. But even more importantly, I believe any difference we can make starts here, now, with the people we love.

There aren’t words in any language to express how grateful I am to live a life so rich in nourishment, not just for my body but for my soul. I’ve always been thankful for the incredible cultural opportunities I’ve had. But maybe for the first time, I’ve been thinking about what it means to truly count your blessings – and while I love my Le Creuset it’s not among them. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has touched my life with your courage, your perseverance and your perspective. I hope you can feel the love I’m sending out and I hope you know my heart carries you with me, always.

And a special spoonful of love for those in the neighborhood – I just split an Eatwell Farms CSA trial with the Lovely Miss MT and am planning to spend my spring helping you taste just a little piece of it.

On Flowers and Food Processors: A Fall in Review

13 Jan

Considering I am The Ultimate Justifier (seriously, throw me your conscience’s roadblocks, I’ll blast them apart with my shaky moral chainsaw faster than you can yell VICE!), the truly bizarre San Francisco winter/summer parallel would be enough for me to jump right back in like no time had passed whatsoever since my last post. But, skipping over the many months of milestones that have kept me busy since – or at least the meals I made during – would belie the bite-sized lessons I’ve learned over their course. So, since you didn’t ask, some highlights:

1. Don’t be a tool. Or, don’t worry so much about yours.

The setting: A Friday afternoon that finds me deliciously not at the office, but rather in the midst of a Los Angeles Indian Summer. Relishing the idea of playing housewife to my beloved Telanor Kousman, out slaving away on his glamorous Hollywood set, I want to find a dish that’s not only appropriate for the heat, but that will showcase a true labor of love in the rare daylight I’ve stolen. Spying the base of a food processor under his butcher’s block, I decide to cobble together my take on Jamaican Jerk Chicken – more or less this New York Times recipe but with four hours of marinating instead of 12. Apparently, house-wifery requires advance planning.

So, I drag my sweating, sundressed-self to the supermarket to gather my fresh fixings (three different kinds of hot peppers, green onions, shallots, ginger, garlic and thyme), clean and prep them, de-shoe so as to be appropriately barefoot, and set them all triumphantly in front of the food processor, ready to grind them into the “course paste” the paper demands.

Only… where’s the damn blade? I look for an hour. Sticky and defeated, I’m about to give up and trek to Joans on Third for some absurdly fancy and correspondingly priced charcuterie (which let’s be real, I did anyway), when it dawns on me – did the Maroons dragged to Jamaica as slaves who created this dish  have food processors???

No. No, they did not.

So, two hours (/two conference calls) later, knife skills vastly improved, I had my precious paste. Did it look perfect? No. Did it taste incredible? Yes. Did I find the missing blade while cleaning up after dinner hours later? Of course.

Since I don’t have a photo of that particular creation (my Blackberry was angry enough at having to pretend to function while smothered in honey and hot pepper juices – this was my passive-agressive way of punishing it at this point in our relationship), here’s another following the same principle. Martha Stewart’s Winter Fruit Crisp, valiantly executed with not a cheese cloth or electric mixer in sight.

(what’s left of) Madge’s Winter Fruit Crisp

As you can see, it was enjoyed – with nary a comment on clumpy topping. Granted, I made it for my boyfriend, who is arguably obligated to tell me it’s delicious if he wants the real sugar… but he did have three servings, take the rest home and ask me to help him translate the recipe into Arabic for his sister, so I guess we’ll take his word for it.

2. Recycling: Not just for your Diet Coke can; Or, the Evolution of a Saturday Dinner.

Turns out, recycling is also ideal for the paella made for two that you both somehow thought would be a fitting amount:

Miss Aarti, or now truly “Spicy in the City” in her awesome new Marina digs, is one of my absolute favorite cooking buddies, but we do seem to share a rather unfortunate quantity-gauging problem…

In our defense, I’m not sure which 4 – 6 people Mark Bittman, whom I love, intended to serve this yellow rice abundance. Perhaps they are professional class salsa dancers? (I’d say sumo wrestlers, but Marky just seems more refined.)

In any case, I was able to add the ridiculous amount of leftovers (less the tomatoes which became a bit soggy) to a bit of sauteed garlic and tomato paste in my Dutch Oven, split a few cherry tomatoes over the top, and rebake for an even more flavorful, crispier go the following night.

In its second life, the rice served as the perfect base to soak up the juices from Martha’s Clam Pan Roast with Sausage & Fennel, which I made as a Sunday evening dinner for my seafood-loving boyfriend (should there be any other kind?). Seriously though, click through to Madge’s little photo. Great little serving for two, right? Ha. I was eating that rice and sausage (Moh took care of all the clams that actually opened like they were supposed to, briny little bastards) for lunch and dinner for the next two days.

And the potatoes? They were soaked in a slick, delicious broth too good to waste but hadn’t quite cooked through, so I saved them in their own Tupperware. Two nights later, the lovely Carrie came up the street and we halved them again and “olive oiled” them (it’s like pan-frying, but makes me feel better about my life – try it sometime) for a good long time. We ate those damn tasty taters alongside my favorite buttermilk chicken, with a cornbread-ing this time around, and a salad. Which I then had for lunch the next day, with the rest of the potatoes, sauteed spinach and poached eggs doing just fine for a quick, cheap dinner that night.

Moral of the long-winded story? What started as one meal rolled along into feeding me and several other people for the better part of the week. Your food might really hit its stride the second time around.

3. Stop talking, Katie.

Seriously. I had some more lessons planned but even I’m sick of me. And since I’m actually sick, I’m justyifing retiring with my Vitamin-C system shock smoothie (thanks Moh! He threw peeled fresh oranges, lemons and honey into my blender and I feel ten times better already) and last night’s Top Chef (although I swear if Jamie doesn’t FINALLY pack her knives and go, I will).

But I’ll be back, well before the SF fog at long last rolls out for the refreshing spring we all know will come soon enough. Promise.

You're right, EShea, this is pretty much my jam these days. Sometimes a picture is worth more than the 1000+ words that came before it 🙂

Summer Tour, Part III: Bologna, by way Caroliina.

18 Aug

What could be more a more retro-fab American way to make Monday night dinner than by playing sous-chef (or “pinche,” as my Oklahoman grandfather would call it, partially in mocking deference to his partially-Chilean wife) for your Irish/Hungarian mom while she makes her family’s favorite Italian recipe? Nothing I can think of, except maybe doing it barefoot in a bathing suit while sipping a Red Hook nestle-chilled in a personalized wedding beer koozie. In the South. Also, just owning and using several beer koozies.

Recognize that koozie, Lynne? Tim + Vanessa 2009. That one's for you!

Although my personal kitchen hero Marcella Hazan would no doubt turn up her discerning nose at the thought of serving her famed five-hour Bolognese to a soundtrack of pre-season football (sorry, ‘Cell, but the fam loves the G-Men and I had given Mark Sanchez my heart even before my roomie and I managed to use his unparalleled visage to stop a lady-cop from impounding her car), I think she’d have to approve of the spirit behind the afternoon of prep for the feast.

There is no better vacation to me than the one my family takes every year to Oak Island, North Carolina, precisely because there’s literally nothing to do but nothing. With no museums to feel guilty about not visiting because you’re secretly uninterested in “learning about local culture,” nor any social scene to feel the need to put on heels for, these precious days on the bath-water warm Atlantic are reserved for sunning, swimming and reading crappy Jane Green novels. Evenings, meanwhile, follow one mandate alone, and needless to say it’s one of my favorites: eat, drink and be merry. So, after a morning of soaking up plenty of sunburn and several men’s magazines pilfered from the office (PR: it’s good for subscriptions), Mom and I retired to the rental house kitchen together to kick off the meal that will always make me think of the seemingly effortless love and care she devotes to feeding her family.

One of my earliest, and most visceral, food memories is the familiar grumble of thrilled hunger I’d feel when I’d come into our kitchen on Wedgewood Road and peer over the red and black granite countertop of the island to find on the stovetop a pot of stewing tomato sauce. Not plain red but flecked with the tiniest curls of almost grey-bluish beef simmering amidst barely detectable slivers of onion, carrot and celery. Fascinated, I would stand on tiptoes to reach for the wooden spoon resting next to the burner to skim the layer of thick orange fat layer that gathered sedentarily between the slow, frothing bubbles.

Marcella describes it better than I can, as just reading one of her recipes paints a picture of the domineering, bourbon-swilling dame responsible for teaching American there’s more to red sauce than Ragu brand long before Mario Batali did: “the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.” Hers was the first (new) cookbook my mom ever gave me for Christmas, and I vividly remember sitting in the backyard of my apartment in San Francisco in a stolen patch of January sunlight tuning out Jean-Claude, our French super who wears a beret and drives his three ancient whippet dogs everywhere in a van adorned on each side (roof included) with a perfectly replicated Pink Floyd album cover, while I pored over each of her directions. I could hear each one as sternly resolute as if they came straight from the mouth of the Italian grandmother I’ve never had. It’s pronouncements like these I love – Marcella, on Pasta:

“There is not the slightest justification for preferring homemade pasta to factory-made. Those who do deprive themselves of some of the most flavorful dishes in the Italian reperatory… They are seldom interchangeable, but in terms of absolute quality, they are fully equal.”

One more favorite before I tell you how to make the damn dinner. On tomatoes:

“The flavor of fresh tomatoes is livelier, less cloying than that of the canned, but fully ripened fresh tomatoes for cooking are still not a common feature of North American markets, except for the six or eight weeks during the summer when they are brought in from nearby farms. When you are unable to get good fresh tomatoes, rather than cook with watery, tasteless ones, it’s best to turn to the dependable canned variety.”

I’ll spare you her thoughts on the acceptable canned varieties. Obviously, they’re Italian.

No doubt she’ll recount the entire recipe for the Bolognese I’ve been eating my entire life far better than I can, so I’ll direct you to it: Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce, from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. But, to paraphrase, you first make a soffrito (dice about a handful of onions, celery and carrots, and heat, in that order, in oil and butter until soft).

The best way to get your veggies? Bathed in oil AND butter, clearly.

Sounds simple, right? It is. Although, not so much with Marcella over your shoulder:

“An imperfectly executed soffrito will impair the flavor of a dish no matter how carefully all of the succeeding steps are carried out. If the onion is merely stewed or incompletely sauteed, the taste of the sauce, or the risotto, or the vegetable never takes off and will remain feeble.”

So don’t eff it up.

Add ground beef and cook “until it loses its raw, red color,” S&P it, then add the two secret ingredients – milk (for which Mom took a measuring cup to the neighbors to fill because we only had skim – Americana at its best, my friends) and nutmeg (adding “warm” seasonings like allspice and cinnamon to sauces is a favorite tasty trick I got from Mom which I now suspect she plucked from Marcella herself). When the milk has evaporated, you add the same amount of white wine you added milk until that has evaporated too.

Here, Marcella left me to panic, because by this time in the recipe you have a yellow mass of liquid and it’s almost impossible to tell when exactly that magic moment is. I realized, though, that besides using the residue on the side of the pot to judge when the chalky white line has diminished to more or less where it was was before you added the wine, you can actually smell the sharpness of the alcohol until it has burned away. After that, you add the canned tomatoes, and then you wait. For hours. And hours. And more hours.

In the meantime, go finish off that sunburn. Return to the house to stir the pot every so often – like when the tingling on that awkward spot on your arm you didn’t reach makes you realize you need more SPF 30, when you feel the need to compulsively check your Blackberry despite the fact they’re certainly not paying you to do so, or if you have to use the bathroom in a manner not appropriate for the ocean. (Not that girls poo. Everybody knows we don’t. Ew.)

When it becomes four o’clock somewhere, a perfectly appropriate location being your own mind, I suggest you fix yourself a While You Wait Whiskey, my debut cocktail creation, inspired by a delicious visit to the Whiskey Kitchen in Nashville, Tennessee (thanks for gradumacating, brosef!).

Look, fruits too!! This day has ALL the food groups.

Cut up two or three strawberries into small pieces. Do what mixologists call “muddling” – mash them up how you see fit. I used the detachment from an electric mixer. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the mix. Put ice in a glass, pour a shot of bourbon over it (if I had my way I’d of course use Bulleit), add the muddled mix, top with club soda, and stir it all up. Adjust all ingredients to taste. Garnish with a sprig of basil, if you’ve got it, and you’re fancy.

The fam unanimously approved ( After “Stawberries? And whiskey? Katie, you’re so crazy, San Francisco blah blah blah.” Sip. “Oh… that works!” Another sip). Point one, pretension.

Even Brosef, the taste purist (complicating the childhood of yours truly the budding foodie by refusing to go to any restaurants where he'd be forced to eat "fancy pizza"), went for sip 2. Admittedly, the basil was a bit much for him.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it has, add spaghetti.

Note: I actually think that even if it weren’t a sensible choice by virtue of its being healthier, the nutty taste and grainier texture of whole wheat spaghetti actually makes a nicer compliment to the sauce than traditional white pasta. Sorry, ‘Cell. I will, however, concede the milk battle. Whole – which is four percent fat – just works better than two percent here. It’s vacation.

Sit while the storm clouds you desperately miss on the East Coast roll in.

Meanwhile, open a bottle of wine. It should be full enough to stand up to the meat, but light enough not to overpower the delicate nature of the sauce. We had a Benziger Signaterra “Three Blocks” Red (2006), a Sonoma Cab Sauv (68%)/Merlot blend that is structured but very smooth, with more cocoa than fruit notes. (The bottle was sent to my Mom as part of the wine membership I got her for Christmas, and on a side note for all you wine country visitors, Benziger, a family-owned and run biodynamic winery is one of the best places to to go. I’ll expound later I’m sure.)

This is a completely extraneous shot I'm including only so I can look at it whistfully whilst stranded once again in cubeland braindead zone tomorrow. Sometimes I don't think the gold diggers have it so wrong.

When the pasta is done al dente, strain, “correct the salt” in the sauce, and serve all mixed up topped with parm cheese. After you’ve worked this hard, keep it classy. Make it fresh grated. Do it for Marcella.

Sit down to enjoy it with your adorable family.

But seriously, could they BE any cuter?

And now suspended 10,000 miles in the bumpy air above the Rockies, remembering the vivid sights, smells and tastes that bring me home no matter how far away that may be, I feel incredibly lucky.  Even if it’s precisely the frustratingly fleeting nature of these moments that make them so powerful.

welcome to the good life. catch ya on the flip side.

Where Words Meet Snacks

23 Jun

If at any given moment I’m not munching away on something savory, you can bet your likely thinner-than-mine-behind that I’m considering the food I just finished, where, how (sometimes with whom) I’m managing to satiate myself next, and/or the upcoming glutfest I have penned, not penciled, into a budget that would probably be better off without it.

Remember those old-timey brain charts? Thanks to the freshman psych course I took as part of the “find yourself” year I spent pretending it wasn’t inevitable I would end up an English major, I happen to know this is called phrenology.

To illustrate, here’s what a normal person’s phrenology chart looks like:

Normal person's phrenology chart (though admittedly "normal" is probably relative when you're a lady rocking the shaved head)

And here’s what my phrenology chart looks like:

My Phrenology

A peek into the terrifying mind of the consumption-obsessed

The rest of those gray blobbies? Things like friends (read: Facebook), work (read: office gossip), world issues (read: suburban guilt), blah blah blah… but I think you get the picture.

Seems to me like an apropros way to set the stage for our meanderings together – very crackpot Freudian, and this is all about fixation, right? (As you’ve probably surmised even at this early juncture, the food chunks of my brain have entirely taken over those pesky little science and math slivers. Sorry Calculus, you’ve been SERVED. Then I ATE you SAY something.)

Point is, I have always been completely and totally obsessed with food. This has had varying effects on the rest of my life thoughout my quarter century, but it wasn’t until I moved to California that I finally found some kindred culinary spirits, stopped feeling guilty about my gastronomic fixation, and now, two and a half years later, have decided to put that English degree to Internet-era use.

So, pull up a chair, grab yourself a bite (naturally, you’re in good company – I’ve been crunching my way through a handful of pistachios), and join me as I turn my insatiable appetite to epicurean topics from recipes to restaurant hype to reckless date-drinking  in what I hope will be a sometimes  informative, always silly exploration of all things edible.