Kitchen Gadget #3

Hiiiiii, tiny baby Cuisinart, in your tiny baby Cuisinart onesie. Darling little 8 lb 6 oz Cuisinart, all trying to grow up to be a full-sized Cuisinart like your brother (sister?). Aren’t you aDORable, filled up with pesto and hope of things to come. I love you.

My current grown-ass Cuisinart is fugly. And ghetto. It’s like Compton-Ass Cuisinart. It’s about 4 years old, white (and covered in food-fingerprints), and the lid is cracked so I have to lean all my considerable heft onto the thing to get it to engage the little lever that allows me to process food. But it’s still functional, so it gets to stay, at least until the wedding, when I’m hoping to get a new one. Brushed stainless, to match the rest of the kitchen.]

For now, meet the newest member of the appliance family: The Baby Cuisinart. I actually don’t know what it’s called, but it’s small and meant for grinding nuts, chopping herbs and onions, etc. Menial tasks that don’t warrant negotiating with/cleaning up afterwards the big Cuisinart. So it’s the Baby Cuisinart. And it’s ADORABLE.

Speaking of babies, I’m teething. No, for reals. My top right wisdom tooth just poked a corner of itself through my gum, which hurt, but didn’t cause me to sit up all night screaming like people claim it does to babies. It was actually kind of sweet, like Puxatawny Wisdom Tooth peeping its head out to check things out. If it sees its shadow, I get 6 more weeks of stupidity. Or something. I’m 26 years old. I am a full-on woman. I think about things like the environment. I own an unpadded bra. I’m almost on my SECOND BIG CUISINART, for God’s sake. What am I doing just now getting wisdom teeth? I mean, obviously most of you don’t have them anymore, but I have a paralyzing fear of dentistry that causes me to gird my loins and eat a lot of tranquilizers and get driven to the dentist every 6 months for a cleaning (and GOD FORBID any fillings), and then try to forget it ever happened. Nothing about those interactions fills me with desire to seek out and pay for someone to go into my mouth with a series of primitive tools and hack out chunks of my teeth, many of whom are just kind of looming unobtrusively up in my head, not causing any trouble. I’ve heard horror stories. I won’t be a statistic. And don’t tell me any of your stories about wisdom teeth removal, because that’s fearmongering, and fearmongering is WRONG.

But back to the kitchen…

The new baby is full of a basil, spinach, and macadamia nut pesto, which was tossed with some kind of freaky, smooth penne pasta, sauteed mushrooms, and tomatoes, sitting on a bed of ricotta and sauteed spinach, and sprinkled with more toasted macadamia nuts. I love pasta. We’re learning how to make it tomorrow, under the watchful eye of Chef, so that’ll be good. Kind of like learning how to knit in a foxhole.

Waffleball bat

I’ve been very lazy about blogging over the holidays, but I assure you, I’m getting back on it. I went back to school today, which was my last hurdle before having my schedule back without pending anxiety (except for the ritualistic anxiety of getting up each morning, putting on an absurd outfit, driving 40 minutes to arrive at school by 6:40, and then waiting patiently to be yelled at–doesn’t usually take long).

I still have BOATLOADS of gifts to debut on here. Peter will just have to be patient as I get in the swing of things. Trust me, Peter, I’ve got a really good one coming up that I can’t show you until I get some ahi, but soon, grasshopper.

My darling brother, who came out flags a-flyin’ last year with a fearsome De Buyer mandoline (woot!) managed to possibly out-do himself this year. Har’ she blows! The All-Clad Round Waffler. Isn’t she a beaut’?

Understand, I’ve been pining for one of these since Chris threw out his ancient bachelor waffle maker, which was totally worthless, unless you wanted to watch burning waffle batter ooze out of the sides of the iron like a craptacular volcano of breakfast disappointment. I waited and waited for the wedding, where I was hoping someone would buy it for my registry, but Erik came up trumps with it as a Christmas gift. I luuuuuuurve waffles. Probably because of how million I love maple syrup. A good waffle is like a crispy little handbag for butter and syrup.

So the day it came, we had a breakfast of totally delicious waffles that I sweetened with Borden eggnog (a sweet, eggy, spice-free milk product that tastes nothing like eggnog but is friggin’ awesome). Topped with…butter and syrup, duh. A side of breakfast sausage sat on the side waiting to steal the syrup and butter. If a waffle is a handbag, sausage is a purse-snatcher. You like that? You want another money-shot? Lawdy!!

Then, I got Chris to give me permission to make waffles again for dinner, so I did. Crispy, spicy waffles made with buttermilk, black pepper, and cayenne. Nothing sweet about them, but that just made them taste like the most fabulous, crispy bread you’ve ever had. They got topped with, what else? Fried chicken. Panko-crusted, fried breasts of chicken were sliced on top, then the whole lot was drizzled with cayenne-infused honey.
Yes, the pictures are less impressive (but more yellow!) than the breakfast, which was shot in daylight, but use your imagination. They were waffle-tastic.

What was kind of a bitch about the whole thing is that I started making my ridonkulous spicy waffles, and then Bobby Flay came on with a chicken and waffles Throw Down. Jackass. His were full of wild rice and the sweet stench of shame he added when he STOLE MY IDEA. I think the show was a rerun, sadly.

I love me some waffles.

Sauerkraut: How can something so delicious smell so, so bad.

Growing up, every New Years Day would be filled with party clean-up, hangovers, and the smell of rotting, fetid goat-ass. Or at least, that’s how it smelled. Some tradition that runs in my family, probably the Pennsylvania Dutch part, dictated that eating pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day brought luck for the coming year. While that was hard to appreciate during the trying experience of fighting a delicate, hungover gag-reflex while smelling said goat-ass, somehow the taste of sauerkraut always managed to calm the stomach and comfort the mind after all. And it’s not like my mom didn’t try to manage the odor, choosing to cook the sauerkraut and pork in a slow-cooker that was locked in the garage. Sadly, malodorous cabbage has a way of seeping through doors like a ghost in the night that glides into your bedroom, sits on your pillow, and “breaks wind.” Right by your head.

I’ve tried a lot of things in my adult life to try and contain the smell as well. I only use the bagged, refrigerated Boar’s Head sauerkraut, because I believe it’s the best quality you can find in a regular grocery store. I don’t believe in canned sauerkraut. In a pinch, the Vlasik jarred version will work, but it has to come from the refrigerated deli case. I think the freshness actually keeps the smell down a bit. I’ve tried making bratwurst and then using the residual heat from the grill to heat a cast iron pan of ‘kraut, but that dried it out. I’ve tried cooking it with apples. Who knew apple could meld so undistinguishably with ass? This year, I just sucked it up and warmed it without letting it ever come to a simmer. And it didn’t stink! Very much.

I brined some thick-cut, bone-in pork chops in cider and salt for about 8 hours, then drained them and seared them on a smoking-hot cast iron skillet. After both sides had a decent color, I wrapped them in foil and let them sit on the counter until they finished reaching temperature. And that temperature is about 155 F. I don’t like overcooked pork. I also ground some black peppercorns and dill seeds in a peppermill and sprinkled it over potatoes that had been sliced, parboiled, and brushed with olive oil and kosher salt. Those got a sear as well. The whole mess was plated with a cider jus and a pickle for good, vinegary measure. It was great, and managed to comfort my hangover in the way that only sauerkraut and pork can.

I wasn’t doing too badly compared to some liquor-soaked years. Our New Years Eve consisted of getting dressed up (read: elegantly whorish) with Chris and having a FABULOUS dinner at Ciao Lavendaria, an Italian place that has gotten solid reviews from Fodor’s, NY Times, et. al. While being pricier than I’m typically comfortable with for a single dinner that isn’t served by a manservant you’re allowed to keep, it was worth every penny. The best meal either Chris or I have ever had was served in multiple courses:

Amuse Bouche=A dumpling of potato and truffle oil floating in a porcini broth. Good. Very good. The broth was heavily salted, but played very well with the thick potato filling.

Salad=An Asian pear, parmeggiano and frisee salad with vanilla vinaigrette for me, which was only so-so as it lacked the tang I expect from a dressing, and a grilled quail over panzanella with a balsamic drizzle for Chris. Chris’s was absolutely to die for, and I discovered that I love quail. The cherry tomatoes were in concasse form, as one would expect in winter, but tasted like they had just been plucked off the vine by a group of joyful and efficient garden gnomes. The only thing I would change is that the bread was more crouton-y than chewy on the inside. I like the al dente texture more. No biggie, as the rest of the dish compensated well. I had also had a quarter bottle of pinot grigio at that point, but Chris assures me my judgement wasn’t off. It was that good.

Main course, forgive the photos which came from my iPhone=I had the braised leg of lamb over chive whipped potatoes and a delicate but intense (is that possible) jus.
It was SO good. The lamb, of which I’m not ordinarily a big fan, was cooked to falling-off-the-bone, and tasted rich and decadent without any of the gaminess I usually associate with it. Chris chose like a rock star, with a dry-aged ribeye that had been rubbed in star anise, orange peel, cinnamon, cayenne, and brown sugar. It was cooked to perfection, with a red interior and flakes of crusted rub falling seductively to the side like discarded lingerie. There were a pair of tiny fingerling potatoes sliced and confited on top of the steak, spooning with a dollop of mayonnaise that had thick slivers of black truffle throughout. I was able to coax out a couple of these slices, remove most of the mayonnaise, and eat them with the steak. Of course, Chris was generously sharing. I had never had truffle, and I’ve got to tell you that I was duly impressed. I was worried it would be one of those things like caviar or fois gras that culinarians tend to fawn over like they’re the second coming of Christ, even though I want none of them and don’t think fish ova or diseased liver are really that special. Or palatable. Or ethical. Whatev.

At this point, Chris and I had been discussing each dish in detail, wanting to savor every bite, as well as analyze food ideas we could steal and use at home. I asked the waitress what was in the dry rub, and she said “You’re a chef, right? I told the chef that you were, and he made your dishes especially himself. I’ll go ask him.” That made me blush ferociously, even though I am not a blusher. It’s hard to ever be offended when you’re a brash hussy like myself. I was really embarrassed and pleased and didn’t know what to do. I felt like all of a sudden I had to perform like a chef in some way, and I didn’t know how. But it was fine, and it meant we got chunks of truffle instead of truffle oil (as had been promised). Which rocked.

Dessert was a dense chocolate torte that was so chocolaty that it bordered on uncomfortable for me. It was somewhat bitter, and really needed either some sweet liquor to impregnate it, or at the very least an extra teaspoon of sugar per slice. Chocolate should be rich and assertive, but it shouldn’t rush off of the tart shell and punch you in the gonads. That’s just inconsiderate. It was served with coffee gelato for Chris, which I loathed, and pistachio gelato for me, which was slightly better. The coffee gelato tasted just like coffee, and the pistachio gelato tasted just like pistachios. I know that sounds kind of like “the snozzberries taste like snozzberries,” but it was really remarkable how truly the flavors were captured.

We came home, me slightly tipsy and Chris doing just fine, and watched HGTV until we fell asleep on the couch. I couldn’t have been happier. Sometimes it’s nice to dress up, have a great meal and then lounge around in your pajamas. Even on New Years Eve.