Thursday, February 28, 2008

side notes

via:, a website that posts daily renderings of Garfield sans its namesake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You

People often make the mistake of thinking that I'm some kind of discerning chocolatier simply because I love to eat chocolate. In fact, the exact opposite is true. I'll eat any kind of chocolate, including (but surely not limited to) that found with shiny wrapper under an inch of dust on long-forgotten pantry shelf, that which is commercially overproduced to the point of waxy discord, and that which is an amalgamation defying logical existence. To me chocolate is chocolate, forgivable for the inconsistencies of demand and excess. Be that as it may, I'm certainly not against the idea of chocolate as a unique, first-class experience. When my friend Vi came home from an Argentinian farm bearing bricks of mountain chocolate, I was thrilled to goosebumps at her very mention of the words Hot Chocolate. Hot Chocolate has long suffered the blight of supermarket powderings*, and the idea of a cup melted from dense (almost black) real-deal chocolate gave me the shivers. Of course, Vi being VI: Culinary Genius, things got a little out of hand and before you could say 'marshmallow' we had made up a white chocolate heart to adorn our liquid feast with.

*yes, i made this word up.

What You'll Need:
Chocolate (dark works best)
White Chocolate Chips (for the decorative heart)

To Make The Heart: Vi devised a makeshift double-boiler kind of thing to melt the chocolate down to the right consistency for shaping. Fill a pot with an inch or two of water, and place it on the stove with a regular, metal mixing bowl fitted over it (pictured at left). Place a few handfuls of white chocolate chips in the bowl, and bring the water to a boil in the pot underneath it. The heat of the steaming rising from the water will be enough to melt the chips into a gooey, sticky mess. (While this happens, it's a good idea to spread out a sheet of tin foil in preparation.) Once everything is properly liquefied, poor the mixture into a squeeze bottle and immediately begin to draw the heart shapes. Make as many as you want, as thick or thin as you want. If the mixture begins to solidify, pop it in the microwave for thirty seconds. When you're done, put the tin foil in the freezer to set.

To Make The Chocolate:The best part about this recipe is that it's completely DIY, even down to the amounts used. You can add or subtract ingredients completely at whim, depending on your most of-the-moment craving. It's a really lovely demonstration of free will. Melt down the dark chocolate over low heat, slowly adding and mixing in the cream. When the mixture is of a good consistency and color (darker for the purists, lighter for the richer palate) add about a tablespoon each of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir everything in and allow it to bubble for a bit, the flavors will have some time to get to know each other this way.

Now your chocolate is ready to serve. Pull the white chocolate hearts out of the freezer. They should be firm enough to lay decoratively on top or alongside of the cup. Drink while still warm. As a side-note: the heat of the drink will inevitably begin to melt the chocolate heart, but roll with it. What it will leave at the bottom of your cup--a gooey, toothy hunk of creamy, pliable chocolate--will incite pleasure verging on total insanity. See? Look at my face below. I'm a loon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sweeetheart Gnocchi: a table for two

Call me a sucker (I'm sure you have been all along, anyway) but when it comes to a romantic meal, my default switch is permanently flipped to Italian Food & Red Wine. The first thing that came to my mind when the words "romantic meal for two" were whispered in my ear? "Viva Italia!" I’m only kind of joking. Most days I can settle my craving for la vita e belle with just about anything pasta-based, but the parallel between comfort-food throwback's like lasagna and certain cats named Garfield is a little too much for even me. After much musing, I decided an ideal Italian-inspired date would consist of something just curious enough to be irresistible: gnocchi, made from sweet potatoes, pan-fried and sprinkled with freshly toasted pecans. Mmm...

I made my sweet potato gnocchi from scratch, but I don’t pretend this makes them any better than the perfectly delicious, pre-made versions put on grocery store shelves by most pasta companies. Just in case you’re game, I’ve included all the steps for making them from start to finish below. If you’re more interested in spending time with your sweetheart then spending time up to your elbows in hot dough and flour, though, just skip to the second part and proceed as normal.

Notes: In my few experimentations with using sweet potatoes for gnocchi, I’ve found that roasting them is better than boiling (retains the flavor), and it’s good to use an egg or two in the dough to help the finished gnocchi pieces maintain their consistency during cooking.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi w/ Roasted Pecans

You Will Need:

1-2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled
Flour (amount varies)
1 egg
1 tbs. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup raw pecans
1-2 tbs. olive oil

To Make Gnocchi:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Wrap the sweet potatoes tightly in aluminum, and let them roast until they are soft enough for mashing.
Place the sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl, and begin to mash them. As you do, add in the egg, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Once everything is thoroughly smooshed (yes, that is the scientific term for it) begin adding flour to the mixture bit by bit until it begins to form a nice, workable dough.

Spread a bit of flour over your workspace, and begin to roll the dough into long, thin strips. Once they have been rolled and reasonably stretched out, take a knife and cut them into ½ to ¾ inch segments. Make sure they aren’t too thick, or the final product will end up being overly chewy/doughy.

Use the tines of a regular dinner fork to press indentations into the surface of each, individual nugget of dough. This gives them their classic, rippled figure. (The pressure of the fork will likely flatten them a bit, but you can easily pinch the sides and roll them back under to create a rounder, more pronounced shape.)

Now you’re gnocchi are ready for cooking!

To Make Pan-Fried Gnocchi w/ Pecans:

Spread the pecans out in a baking pan, making sure they lie flat across the bottom. Pop them in the oven at 375-400 degrees.

While the nuts bake, heat 1-2 tbs. of olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan over med-high heat. Once the pan is warm, toss in a handful of gnocchi and let them crackle there until each side is nicely browned. You’ll be able to tell when they’re ready, because they look so appealingly golden that you’ll want to eat them straight out of the oil.

The amount of time it takes for the gnocchi to reach crispy perfection is roughly equivalent to the time it takes the pecans to become fragrant and toasted. Pull the gnocchi off the fire, pull the pecans out of the oven, and dash them all together on a plate. Serve and eat immediately! They’re best when still warm.

Suggested Sides:
Freshly roasted garlic bread
Sauteed kale and spinach

To Drink:
You know the famous line -- "...a nice Chianti."

For Dessert:
One word -- gelato.

Monday, February 11, 2008

a sad day for rock 'n roll

"It's not that bad," the little voice told me as I swung through the double doors of the CVS Pharmacy down the street from my apartment. "It'll be easy," the voice continued to assure me. "Not like last time, not like last time when the machine broke down and ate the four rolls of film you brought in from New Years Eve...this time will be better." And I listened. I listened to this same little voice that has said to me "it'll be better next time" in seductive, sing-song reptition for years. Said it and been dead-wrong each time. I listened and I went into CVS Pharmacy and handed over my precious rolls of film to the one hour photo department; handed over the last three weeks worth of heavily documented, irreplacable moments in cooking that were meant to accompany the four meals I had concocted as the perfect 'dates'. It only took an hour for the phone call to arrive: "Sorry, ma'am...your film was accidentally exposed during development."

Valetine's Day in t-minus 50 odd hours, and four meals to make! Anybody want to be my date: redux?

Friday, February 1, 2008

promise rings

With Valentine's Day looming on the horizon, what most of us are probably feeling is a sick pull in the bottom of our stomachs called "impending doom". What do we do? Where do we go? How do we make every second perfect? Unfortunately, nothing ruins a special moment faster than the awareness of how heavily premeditated it is. It's why I've never celebrated the big V before. (That or a deeply rooted feminist complex cultivated by years of self-inflicted, adolescent mental torment and listening repeatedly to Hole, but who knows?) Reservations, preparations, schedules--it's for the birds. Any holiday that encourages the mass migration of 20-somethings to every bar and restaurant in the city, bloating them with youthful, heavily-scented and overly-gussied flesh, is to be determinedly avoided. So I have a proposal, brief but possibly promising? Dinner for two, at home, DIY-style. Over the next couple of weeks I'll post a series of meals that are perfect to make for you and whomever you care for.

I know that I speak from a biased point of view, but I think I could be easily wooed by a person willing to cook for me. It's not just that I love food, it's the level of care and thought that is inherent to meal-preparation. It's a genuinely pleasurable experience to share! If you don't believe, I think you should give it a shot. And, of course, send me a note telling me how it goes.

So, get ready! Huzzah Huzzah!

Just an example, off-hand:

My friend Brian & Chicken Marsala. You might think this looks romantic, what with the wine and all, but really we inhaled the whole thing without talking and in under twenty seconds.