Friday, April 30, 2010


When I started writing this blog again, I was considering making it a food blog because that seems to be what I'm most obsessed with, besides beer and cats. (Both of which might be considered food.) But I decided against it when I realized that there are lots of people writing about food, most of which have more experience with it than I do. These people work at restaurants, or make things that I generally have no interest in cooking myself. (Who has time or reason to make their own cheese?) I don't consider myself a food snob since I love simple foods like a cheese pizza or the occasional fast food hamburger. Food snobbery makes great tasting things seem inaccessible to regular folk, but that's just because theses recipes take pride in too many ingredients, strange technique, or kitchenware you can only buy in the country where the dish originated. Do I have a store within an hour of here where I could buy a sharkskin wasabi grater? Probably. Do I need one? No. But they tell me I must have one because it grates the wasabi so much better than anything else. But I don't make my own sushi. I did once, and it was good. But I would rather leave it to the professionals, who can make multiple types, which taste great, and can deliver it to my door for the same price that it cost me to make 2 rolls. If you are thinking that I'm saying, "Don't try to cook things that are difficult" you're wrong. There is nothing I love more than cooking something that takes forever, takes skill, or takes a few beers to get careless enough to try something really different. But I also don't like to spend too much to make it.

Recipes. I think of them as the sheet music of cooking. (Sheet music I can actually read). But as far as my every-day cooking goes, I don't use them. That's how I play piano. I never read music, I just look over the chords and wing it. I play by ear and I cook by taste. I've been told that playing music by ear is a talent most people don't have, and I think that cooking without a recipe is also a talent, but one that is easier to learn than looking at "F#m7" and knowing what piano keys to put your fingers on. If people concentrate on ingredients of foods they like, and know what those ingredients taste like separately, they can combine them (I'm gonna be cheesy here) in a symphony of flavor! Example: I know that I love balsamic vinegar. You can't go wrong with balsamic. I know I find chicken to be pretty flavorless (maybe just Bronx chicken) and I know that when you put balsamic vinegar on something hot, its water evaporates and you are left with a kind of glaze. Put it on chicken while its grilling? You get balsamic glazed chicken. Throw that on some good Italian bread with mozzarella and roasted red peppers and you have a great sandwich. Do you need to search through recipes to make it? No. It's science mixed with common sense.
I'm going on and on about this because I just spent 5 hours going through cookbooks, Saveur magazine, and websites trying to find some recipe that would impress Mike. I got so frustrated thinking of all the pans I would have to wash, the tools I don't own yet, and the grocery list that would make it impossible for me to make it up five flights of stairs with the bags, that I decided to go with one of his favorites, the aforementioned sandwich, which has all of 5 ingredients. Match that with some cheap wine and an easy brownie mix for dessert, and I have a happy boyfriend. And I'm happy because while I'm writing this I'm enjoying the cheap wine.
Back to cookbooks.
I have lots of cookbooks, and food magazines, and I watch food shows constantly. I think, "Wow! I'm gonna make that Tom Yum Goong!" It's the initial excitement that soon wears off when I realize that I really don't want to run all over Manhattan to find ingredients for some Thai recipe that calls for 1.Galangal (??) 2.Kaffir Lime Leaves, 3.Prik Pao. If I lived in a Thai neighborhood? Sure. But the Bronx ain't no Thai neighborhood.

Another affliction that I'm, uh, afflicted with, is my lack of "food heritage". Mike is Italian, French, and Irish. He loves Italian food. He can drink like the Irish, and (Ahem) loves like the French. (Sorry mom.) I, on the other hand, while very mutt-like, have a family that didn't retain its national heritage or its food. My dads side is Croatian and Polish, and the only things we retained from those regions are good looks, olive skin, and great legs. My moms side has been in the U.S. for hundreds of years. The things I consider to be my food heritage (mom side) are beans and cornbread, pie, and various meats. Very American. And tasty. My dad is a good cook and always had me cooking something with him for dinner. We would grill everything. Meat, fish, vegetables, pizza, anything that could be grilled was grilled. That's why I have a hard time with this whole apartment living thing. I grew up in a grill based world. And I'm really glad for it because It's tasty and healthier than, say, poaching your fish in butter or something. And it takes skill to get a steak just right, a skill which I pride myself on. Speaking of food heritage, the last time I was visiting my dad in L.A. I was telling him some things I like to make. I said, "One of my favorite things I made recently was chicken with a Chile Verde sauce. You know, tomatillos." He gave me a strange look and said, "I never taught you how to use tomatillos!" Like he was upset that I have my own food brain. It was funny, and I came to realize that a lot of my favorite ingredients like bell peppers and chorizo, are not things he would ever make. I've grown up, I guess, into my own food-person.
One thing I have not grown into, however, is the use of fruit with meat. It's everywhere, and it's popular among the high-end types, carrying their Dolce and Gabbana bags, (55 gallon $2000 dog crates) and "lunching" at places I could only dream of affording. I love a fancy restaurant as much as the next girl, but I don't want my sauteed pork cutlet on a bed of seared figs and some kind of reduction. Separate? Sure! Applesauce with my pork? No problemo. But uppity food is as unappealing to me as uppity people. Plus I know that a bugs favorite place to have sex and lay its eggs is on figs. It's true. Ask the USDA.

My friend Brian and I used to talk about the finer restaurants in L.A. and began referring to their "plating technique" as "Tall Food". They pile everything up in the middle of the plate to create a sort of tower. Some gratin-type thing at the bottom, 3 asparagus tips as a kind of foundation, 2 ounces of a fancy meat, and some micro greens at the top. Want to impress your mother? Tall Food. Then take her out for a hamburger so she's not still hungry.

Am I too negative about food? I go back and forth between wanting cheese pizza and wanting something ridiculously expensive or high-end. If I was rich, I might not be so negative about the fancier things. If I was rich, I would have a platter of oysters sitting here by the computer to eat at my leisure. I would sear fois gras in the salty tears of the sturgeon who's eggs I would be eating on toast points. I picture myself laughing hysterically during all of this.

On a lighter note, It's time to start making dinner for my Italian Frenchman who should be home soon. He's going to be glad that we're having those balsamic chicken sandwiches with mozzarella and red peppers, and not apricot prune stuffed pork medallions with a pomegranate reduction atop a poached quail egg. I'll be glad too. Not because I wouldn't want to make the fancy crap, but I've been drinking that cheap wine and I don't know that I could poach an egg right now.


  1. Awesomeness! I love the anecdote about your Dad and the tomatillos. It's funny, my mom never taught me to cook and I think I learned most of what I know about techniques from your dad's high falutin' but simple L.A. cooking, and the cookbook he gave me. I still use the old Nicksin paper-towel-on-the-floor. But my tastes remain southern American and, for some reason, middle eastern.

    Your balsamic chicken rocks! I think the salad we made was the favorite thing I ate all weekend, even though we had all of New York's food at our fingertips. (Er, tonguetips?)

    That paragraph about the sturgeon tears is killer. I was already laughing hysterically when I got to the last line and that just clinched it. No-breathing-laughter.

  2. I totally get where you're coming from on the gadgets. Good grief, Bed Bath & Beyond has an entire section for them. Do I really need 16 knives to cut an onion?

    As for the fruit and meat, I'm with you on that one. Check out this tasty sounding dish....
    Hows that for gross and snobby?

    Thanks so much for ruining fig newtons for me, Laura ruined Jello and you ruined Fig Newtons. I have very little left in my life now.