Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's like making toast, apparently...

"Oh, I just threw it together." It's a phrase that I use with sketches, casseroles, baked goods, and (in the most recent case) Halloween costumes for work. With Kelly and his friends, it's for things that take me hours to make.

"Oh, I just threw it together," Kelly said the night he first cooked for me. This was in regards to risotto with spring vegetables and sausage. A meal that I would have to SLAVE over. It was perfect in that the grains were tender, the vegetables still retaining some crunch, and a wonderful sauce that accented the spice of the sausage. "[Blank], please," Samantha said the next day during our usual get-togethers to rehash the evening in HD detail. "You do not just throw that [blank] together."

But Kel isn't the only offender. "Oh, I just threw it together," Kelly's friend Tawny said as she welcomed us into the apartment she shared with their friend Mara. Her "it" ended up being cod hushpuppies, lobster tails in clarified butter, avocado salad, and some sort of bruschetta/pizza-esque item. I have never made lobster anything...let alone in clarified butter (which itself takes me a good 10 minutes to make sure that I don't burn it). And, of course, everything tasted as if it came out of the sea dressed in parsley with lemon juice dabbed behind the valves.

The funniest thing about all of this is that Kelly doesn't understand how ridiculous it sounds when he tries to defend it. "It's just a standard dish," he said when he defended his supposedly easy risotto. "I make it all the time." And I make forgeries of Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon" during commercial breaks. It really all comes down to the fact that I'm not an industry person, which he seems to forget except for instances where he "just threw it together." But it works other ways, too. I was apparently the lucky charm for charades, having won every round. I can wrap gifts and embellish them with ease so that Martha might see me as a threat to her sharp cornered empire. And like every other intelligent person I have ever met that is numbers orientated, Kelly can't spell with confidence. Confidence. C-o-n-f-i-d-e-n-c-e. And I didn't even need it used in a sentence.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Baby it's cold outside

It's usually around this time that I start to bring out my autumn recipes. The sweet smell of rotting leaves, the bite in the air, the mounds of apples in every market and grocery store...I start bringing out the stuffed apples, the gingerbread, and anything with cinnamon in it. But one of my heartier meals that I do quite often is chili (see what I did there?).

Mom really would only do chili every once and a while. I'd have it in college, but no one really likes their cafeteria. It wasn't until I started living with Lou that I began to really appreciate it. She never worked Mondays, so it was usually on those days that I would come home from work, exhausted and not wanting to cook, and find the house smelling sharp and red. Lou's chili was always simple and easy to replicate...beef (or turkey), red kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, tomato soup, chili powder.

When Lou moved back to the West coast, I took up her recipe. I added my own touches...cumin, red pepper flakes, garlic, diced onion, cilantro, crushed tomatoes. Eventually, I cut down the bean count from three to two after Virginia at work saw my chili lunch and her only response was "Wow, that's a lot of beans..." instead of the usual "Ooh, that looks good."

Recently, I had dinner with Karen and Michael with Kelly making his chili. The wine was served, of course, and then Kelly went to work. As I chatted with Karen about going back after maternity leave, I watched him add the usual fare with tomato paste, cheese rinds, pork stock, chicken stock, beef stock, sausage, the baby...but it was Michael's addition that caught my attention. After cleaning them, he chops up a few large potatoes and roasts them in the oven. Once they had a cracked, crisp skin, Kelly makes a bed of potatoes in each of the bowls. It is one of the best batches I have ever eaten. I wonder why I haven't thought of doing this a long, long time ago.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A cooking crossover

I watch the butter melt into gold, three thin strips of the remaining bars bobbing in the saucepan. I'm careful to keep the temperature low per Stella's instructions. As an actual foodie, I have some comfort that, out of the two of us, someone knows what she's doing.

As the proprietor of the fun BraveTart (, she runs her own blog as an actual chef...with a pro photographer friend who does the food shots. She's also a good friend of Kelly's. Hoping to make sure the recipes that she includes for each blog post are easy to use, Stella (via Kelly) asked if I would be interested in trying some out to help her troubleshoot the instructions.

After visiting her blog and returning to my own dog-and-pony show, I decided that the Port Brownies would be something close to my speed (I am a baker in my own right...ish). I run to the grocery and sigh at the darkened signs of the two liquor stores I pass along the way. Damn dry states shutting down alcohol sales on Sundays... I get the rest of the ingredients that I don't already own and resign myself to substituting coffee for the Port (a legal substitution in Stella's eyes). I hate to admit it, but I'm a little nervous.

I've been baking for decades now. I would cook with my mother and eventually became the go-to guy for desserts. Tiramisu, cakes, brownies, cookies (a specialty of mine, if I can brag a little) all became standard on my weekends. I eventually graduated in High School to side dishes on Thanksgiving and the odd dinner when Mom couldn't step out of her office. In college, I did everything but the Turkey at Thanksgiving and several desserts for the holidays. "You should really sell these," my cousin Andy said one Christmas as he swallowed another one of my Mexican Wedding Cakes.

But Stella's recipes are well beyond me. "12 ounces butter, clarified" Stella tells me after her charming introduction. Well [expletive deleted]... I see that all the "normal" ingredients in the usual list have been replaced by their scientific cousins. For every teaspoon, there is an ounce of this or that. I wipe the dew from my forehead, grateful that I don't have to weigh my eggs. I take a deep breath and read through the entire list again. In one moment, I turn from Julia Child into Betty Crocker. I search the Internet and stumble into "" and cross my fingers. I copy the conversions into cups and tablespoons, scribbling everything down and praying that everything comes out right. A full cup of cocoa powder seems like a lot (esp. since there already is 12oz of unsweetened chocolate already in the recipe), but there are six eggs so I make a small prayer and follow my new E-Z Bake Oven instructions.

The brownie batter becomes fudgy and thick, an oily slick of brown that tastes delicious as I lick a few stray blobs off of my knuckles. I smear a streak along my jaw and spill flour onto the counter top. I regress back to being six and making chocolate chip cookies under Mom's ever-vigilant attention. I manage to get the batter out of the mixer and into the prepared pan. I follow Stella's tip to line it with tinfoil for easy clean-up, but panic and smear a little grease along the exposed sides to keep them from sticking. I stick it into the pre-heated oven, letting go and letting God.

I wipe down the counter tops and wash my hands for the fiftieth time. Checking the brownies in the oven, they look like every other batch that I have ever made. I laugh at myself and look at the clock on the microwave. Kelly will be getting out of work soon and heading over here. A willing test subject.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Meal of champions

Note: The lack of posting has been due to a move into a new apartment. I just got the Internet back a mere few hours ago.

Kelly and I hover at the bar. He sips at a bloody mary (something he was craving), but I shake off any offers for a drink myself. We're on a mission. I am so hungry, I can find kinship with the Donner Party. The two healthy looking girls tucked in the corner look like they would make amazing sausage.

"Mark? Party of Two?" the hostess calls and I give the sausage girls one last look before I follow her and Kelly to our table. We've been up for hours, but haven't gotten anything to eat until just now. The waitress comes, a cheery girl I recognize from our many trips here, and we order without looking at the menu. There was never an option to what we would be getting. For the past few months, every Sunday brunch we went, Kelly and I ordered a drink (cocktail for him, sweet life-blood of the gods [read coffee] for me), pancakes, and a side of bacon. "You know, I think breakfast may be our thing," Kelly says as I stare the waitress down until she flips my mug over and fills it. I doctor it with the smooth movements of an addict and take the first sip to regaining the humanity I lost overnight. "Most couples do dinner, but we seem to do breakfast and brunch the most."

I try to justify it, but my brain isn't quite working yet. Breakfast has never really been a major meal for me. Growing up, it was pop-tarts or toast before the bus (Mom letting my siblings and I sleep-in as long as possible). In college, it was coffee, a cigarette, and maybe a bowl of soggy cereal. I quit smoking my junior year and increased my caffeine intake (against doctor's orders), to the point that breakfast was several cups of coffee before my latest temp job. The fact that it's "the meal" I have with my boyfriend is surreal (think less melty-clock Dali and more nude with a backbrace, nails driven into the flesh, and a rotting stone column where the spine should be Khalo).

Our order arrives as the folk band starts up another song. Kelly and I do the small talk thing for a moment, but the conversation fades into the clink of forks and knives on plates, ice sloshing in glasses, and my spoon stirring more cream into my coffee.

(The art references are "La Persistencia de la Memoria/the Persistence of Memory" by Salvidor Dali and "La Columna Rota/The Broken Column" by Frida Khalo.)