Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Month: January, 2011

Living Well on Yoga Stretches and a $5 Bill

by lyzpfister

“Well,” I said, “I can sit and watch you eat.”

He looked at me as if to say, Really, Lyz?  Don’t be dumb.

So I said, “Or… we can make pasta?”

And that’s how we ended up taking the train back to Bushwick, stopping at Associated to pick up spinach and beer, and carting our yoga’d out bodies into my apartment, where the temperature was miraculously above 50 degrees.

I’d been thinking about this pasta all day.  I’d had a sweet potato for lunch and wanted to do something more interesting with it than just heat it up with butter and brown sugar.  So I posted my dilemma on twitter, and just moments later received a lovely suggestion to make ravioli.  I had a pasta roller I hadn’t used yet and a self-imposed rule to spend no more than $5 on food and now, a friend with which to eat: oh yes, the stars had aligned.

Sweet Potato and Spinach Ravioli

For pasta:
2 cups flour
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

For filling:
1 yellow onion
1 large clove garlic
1 bunch of spinach
½ roasted sweet potato
¾ cups ricotta cheese
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
salt and pepper to taste

On a clean, dry surface, make a volcano-like mound of flour.  In the crater, crack three eggs; add salt and olive oil.  With a fork, scramble the eggs and blend with the flour.  If the dough is dry, add a few drops of water until you find yourself kneading a smooth, elastic ball of dough.  (Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add more flour.)  Knead the dough for about ten minutes.  Let the dough rest while you prepare your filling.

Finely chop onion and garlic and sauté in a healthy amount of olive oil until the onions are translucent.  Add washed spinach.  When the spinach is completely tender, scrape the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth; add sweet potato and ricotta and puree again.  Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

With a pasta machine, rip off chunks of dough and feed it through the machine, starting at the largest setting and folding the dough in half before dropping the setting each run-through.

If you don’t have a pasta machine, you’ll need to roll out your pasta dough by hand.  Separate the dough into four equal pieces.  Lightly flour a large, clean surface and roll out the dough in a circular pattern with a rolling pin.  The finished dough should be extremely thin – you should be able to see your hand through it.

To make the ravioli, cut the pasta strips into squares and drop about a teaspoonful of filling in the center.  Brush the edges of the pasta with a beaten egg and then tightly squeeze the edges shut.  Boil the ravioli in salted water for four minutes, or until done.  Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried pasta, so make sure to keep an eye on it.  A watched pot might never boil, but unwatched pasta turns to mush.

This ravioli is deliciously sweet and savory, and pairs well with most tomato or white sauces.  Either way, the sauce should be simple, because there’s so much flavor in the ravioli themselves.  I made a basic white sauce deepened with tomato paste: Melt two tablespoons butter in a skillet on low heat; when the butter is melted, add a little bit of milk, making sure not to scald it.  Add a few tablespoons of flour and whisk constantly.  Add a teaspoon of tomato paste and a healthy pinch each of salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Continue to whisk, slowly adding milk until the sauce reaches a silky consistency.  Finish ravioli with sauce and freshly grated parmesan.

Midnight Feast

by lyzpfister

There are few things for which I will willingly stay up late.  Pork belly is one of them.  Of course, as I trekked through the slushy Brooklyn night I had no way of knowing that a thick and streaky slab of raw pork belly was waiting for me just past the Bedford stop.

I was on my way to a midnight cooking feast.  In two weeks of schedule scouring my friend Ben and I didn’t have one overlapping free hour to cook.  And all we really wanted to do was cook.  So lets cook at midnight, we said, and that’s how I found myself struggling to stay awake on an empty train, kicking myself for having agreed to something as ridiculous as not being in bed at midnight.

Our plan was to let ourselves be inspired.  To not plan a single recipe until we looked at what we had.  During his 11 pm grocery run, Ben bought whatever looked pretty and cost less than $2 a pound.  I felt like I was on Iron Chef, watching as he pulled each ingredient out of a Whole Foods shopping bag and laid it on the counter.  Lemons.  Eggplant.  Baby potatoes.  Red and yellow beets.  Pork belly.  Parsley and cilantro.  Jicama.  Tangerines and grapefruit.  Fennel.  And lastly, a small, brown paper-wrapped package.  “Guess,” he said.  “Chorizo,”  I guessed.  “Stranger than chorizo.”  “Tripe,” I guessed.  “Less strange than tripe,” he said and unwrapped a tangled mess of baby octopi.

We threw around ideas for our meal – should we do an Asian-inspired glazed belly or slice it up and cook it like bacon – should we roast vegetables or frittata them – could we do anything without vinegar?  (No, was the answer, and Ben made a quick run to the corner store for two bottles of vinegar.)  We settled on belly flash seared and then braised in a citrus glaze and a jicama and roasted beet slaw.  I woke from my sleepiness with the rising smell of onions, garlic, and fennel sautéing in olive oil.

We improvised, we guessed.  Never cooked pork belly?  Don’t know whether jicama and beets taste good together?  Didn’t matter!  We sliced and sautéed our way into the morning.  Ella and Louis crooning from the speakers as our knife blades smashed garlic and the red wine evaporated.  At around two, I remembered the octopus.  What should we do with it?  Grill it, of course, with smoked paprika and lemon.  I wanted mushrooms, so we sautéed them in olive oil with a little salt and pepper and garnished the dish with parsley.  We sat down on one side of the kitchen bar and sampled our appetizer.  It was good, briny and delicately chewy, smoky-sweet from the paprika, and interesting to eat as my tongue worked around tortuously curled tentacles.  But we looked at each other and we knew:  “It needs something” – “a bit of zing.”  And Ben was back at the stove, making a quick balsamic reduction.  He sprinkled the dark black, almost caramelized bits across the red-hued octopus and when we sat down to the second round, we sighed.  Perfect.

I love to cook for people, but sometimes, it’s fun to cook with people who cook.  If only for those moments when you look at each other and just know, that something is good, but it can be better.  And without despairing, a few moments later, with a splash of lemon juice or honey, or a balsamic reduction, you can create something beautiful.  Something truly perfect.

The pork belly, when it came out of the oven, was already perfect.  Tender from roasting in its own fat and acidic citrus fruits, each caramelized, fatty piece, topped with a forkful of vinegary fennel and onion, just melted.  And to balance the richness, there were quick bites of jicama and beet slaw, spiked with jalapeños, mustard, honey, and ginger.

We finished eating, and I slunk into a pork belly-induced food coma, sprawled on the couch still making happy-full food noises.  The dishes could wait and so could the snow.  For now, all that mattered was the good food and the good company and the sleep, so long delayed.  And a promise extracted, to cook at midnight again.

Sometimes We Eat Our Disney Friends

by lyzpfister

My evening commenced on the couch with a copy of the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and the smell of lemon and garlic emanating from the oven.  I’ve been craving fish recently and I wouldn’t wonder if I’m overdoing it – snacking on fresh French bread with butter and sardines this afternoon and this flounder for dinner and baccalau soaking in the fridge for tomorrow.  It’s just so good.  So clean and comforting when outside is so cold and mean.  This recipe is incidentally not from the Times cookbook; I made it up out of my own little head.  I just feel like cookbook reading and cooking are the perfect components to perfect evenings, and so I mention my couching as a prelude to this delightful fish.

Lemon and Garlic Baked Flounder
1 flounder filet
1 yellow onion
1 plum tomato
5-6 mushrooms
5-6 okra pods
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
½ tsp capers
1 tsp fresh oregano
juice of ½ lemon
generous splash of olive oil (1/4 cup?)
red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 350°.  Rub the flounder with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place it in a shallow baking dish.  Chop onion, okra, tomato, and mushrooms and add to flounder.  Smash garlic with the edge of a blade and add, along with capers and salt, pepper, oregano, and just a dash of red pepper flakes.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon (or a whole lemon, if your lemon is stingy) over the vegetables and fish and top with a generous chug of olive oil.  Mix as best as you are able, without breaking the fish.  Or even better, take the fish out, mix the vegetables and then arrange the fish back in the dish and artfully cover with the vegetables.  Place dish uncovered in oven and bake approximately 15 – 20 minutes or until fish is done.  I wish I could be more exact on the time, all I can really say for sure is that I had just finished the “Appetizers” section in the New York Times Cookbook.

Resolutions and Assorted Thoughts on Salt and Things

by lyzpfister

It’s been a minute.  I’ve missed you.  I never told you about Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years and all the magnificent food I cooked and holiday observations I made.  I didn’t write about the Greek Meatballs or the Fancy Vegas Dinner, the Skirmish with Lamb Marrow, or the Million Clove Dinner Party.  I took a few pictures, but not enough.  I let my errands run me.  But now I find myself wedged into a MegaBus seat with no WiFi, my copy of Fear and Loathing (plus commentary) finished, fifteen minute nap done (and besides, I told myself I wouldn’t nap this time), and I think it’s time to write a little.  It’s part of my New Years Resolution, I guess – to write more.  That, and to actually remove the makeup from my face before I go to bed, keep my toenails painted, and use my Crockpot more often.  And to be generally nicer.

I’m on my way back to New York from a weekend visiting one of my oldest friends (by which I mean, we have been friends since the age of four) in State College, PA.  It’s a snowy drive, and the big windows are streaked with salt spray, which makes the view grim.  I feel especially sorry for the people who have been riding this WiFi-less bus since Pittsburgh.  Although it looks, at least, like everyone else’s seat reclines.

We’re pulling into a travel station, and I’m tempted to get a hot dog.  Nothing as extravagant, of course, as the hot dogs my friend said she used to get at Hoss’, where they’d carve her name into the unlucky wiener.  These are weird moods of mine.

It could be being back in Pennsylvania, where, growing up, a special meal out was at Applebee’s and something super fancy got celebrated at the Olive Garden.  I felt this strange pull to big-house chain food as my bus rolled into the WalMart parking lot on Atherton – we’d passed a Texas Roadhouse – and I thought – I want that.  So for our first dinner, Liz and I went to the Texas Roadhouse, where the waitresses all stopped and line danced to Devil Went Down to Georgia and at least five tables were celebrating a birthday that got Yee-Hawd.  But my pulled pork sandwich was good and the rolls, buttery and mashable and slapped with cinnamon butter, were delightful.  And for breakfast this morning, we went to a small chain breakfast joint, The Original Waffle Shop, much like an Ihop or Waffle House but with less slick and sticky patches of maple syrup glazed onto the tabletops.  My omelet, with feta cheese, tomatoes, and spinach, was good and the homefries were perfectly done, an ideal ratio of crunchy fried nubs and soft red-potato rounds.

What is it, I wonder, that makes me disdain chain restaurants.  Principle?  Glossy printed menus and servers who’ll “take care of me?”  Is it kitsch?  Middle America?  Clearly they must have figured something out to be so successful and ubiquitous in the American cultural landscape.  I will also admit, I have had worse meals at some private restaurants than at chains.  How do they do it?  It must have something to do with the Stuff On The Walls.  Or salt.

And then again, food in Pennsylvania is not just chain restaurants.  I always know I’ll eat well at Liz’s; her mother cooks classic Americana for dinner and there’s always something tasty lying around, like brownies or rich chocolate milk fresh from a local dairy.  And things I never buy for myself (like baby carrots with Ranch dressing), because I long ago learned that cereal always tastes better at other people’s houses.

This time, I woke up on Saturday morning to her parents sitting around the kitchen table measuring out 4-oz bags of chipped dried venison from an extra deer a friend had shot and killed.  The meat is taken to an Amish farm where it’s cured and dried and for an extra two dollars, chipped into paper-thin pieces.  For dinner that night we had creamed chipped venison based on a recipe from something like the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking.  The book was worn, with cracked binding and sauce-stained pages; the hallmarks of a well-loved cookbook.  I’ve been sent home with a bag of chipped dried venison for myself and a photocopied page of the recipe.  I’ll make it back in New York, a reminder of a place where food is simpler and cozy, a buttress against snow and cold.

As for the chains?  I’ll leave them for PA, for the home journeys where we meet for Margaritas at Chili’s or find ourselves craving cheese biscuits from Red Lobster or Olive Garden’s breadsticks.  Where simple food with lots of salt and butter overcomes the garish apparitions dangling from the walls.  Where really, it’s less about food and more about being back home anyway.  After all, I have resolved to be Relatively Nicer.