Jul 142013
 

Alio e olio

Excuse me while I state the obvious: I’m a food snob. Even worse, sometimes I’m that judgy food snob that no one likes to cook with because she can’t shut the hell up about how she would do it. I really, really try to shut that bitch up whenever I can because she is rude and ungrateful.

There is one occasion that stands out in my mind as a time that I’m really happy that I was able to do just that. I had moved to Tucson not that long before and a new friend had invited me over for dinner for the first time. She had spent the summer in Europe and eaten all sorts of fabulous food so she decided to make aglio e olio for me. Having never had this dish before, my sniveling jerk-face inner monologue was just horrified — horrified — that she wasn’t using fresh basil but I didn’t know Kyla very well at the time so I decided to hold off on saying something that could flush this nascent friendship down the toilet.

Prepping for aglio e olio

And it’s a good thing I did too, because the meal she made? Delicious! It needed none of the things that I probably would have added (and actually, anything I would have added would have detracted from the simplicity, which is the key to its deliciousness). Not only was the food good for my taste-buds, it was also good for my too-big ego, which sometimes needs to be brought down a notch with some humble pie. Or, in this case, some aglio e olio.

I’ve happily been eating this dish ever since, but it wasn’t until I started writing up this article and decided to see what the internet had to say about aglio e olio that I made the startling discovery that most people don’t use tomatoes in it! I had always thought it must include it, despite not being named, say, aglio, olio, e pomodori. Well, to all of Itay, I say that Kyla had it figured out. That’s right: Kyla, 1; Italy, 0.

Alio e olio

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Mar 032013
 

Life can be stressful sometimes. Kids need looking after, appliances need fixing, food needs cooking, and the whole damn house needs a thorough vacuuming. We haven’t even mentioned self-maintenance time either, where you relax, immerse yourself in your hobbies, and other things that make you feel like a complete functioning human. Forget all that self-actualization crap: some days it’s hard to just keep your head above water. I like to treat my stress with an intense workout, but when you’re battling all the stuff I just mentioned, sometimes it just isn’t gonna happen. If you find yourself in that dilemma, try this:

Set your food on fire.

Of course, I’m not advocating wasting perfectly good food: you don’t want to reduce it to ashes. Just, y’know, take some fish, pour some booze on it, and flambe it! It’s fun, it’s pyrotechnic, and it’s productive — you are putting dinner on the table, after all. And in the tradition of so much good Italian food, it only gets better the next day. What’s not to love about that? Plus, it comes together pretty quickly, so even a cheerful three-month-old can be content to watch you make this dinner without needing gobs of TLC.

So put the devil in his place: give this a go in your own kitchen and let the pyrotechnics fly!

Monkfish fra diavolo

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May 142008
 

I love orzo. It’s such a hybrid – it looks like it wants to be rice, but it’s got the taste and texture of pasta, and because of its small shape it’s perfect in side dishes and salads. This dish that I’m about to share with you is my favorite orzo dish. There’s really nothing not to love about it – it has lots of highly flavored elements that manage to not compete with each other, a couple of highly nutritious veggies, and a wonderfully textured sauce that tastes rich and creamy without actually being either of those things.

Fresh cherry tomatoes star in this dish
Nikon D50

This recipe also has the bonus factor of minimal stove use, which is key in the summer. You use a stove but it’s much more about mixing things together at the end than it is about simmering for hours. I love taking this dish to dinner parties because people tend to expect a typical pasta salad dish – made with mayonnaise and flat-tasting – until they actually try it and realize how much complex and fresh tasting it is than what they were expecting. So give it a try and let it change your ideas of a pasta salad.

Perfect on a summer day!
Nikon D50

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Jan 262008
 

Growing up, I never quite understood why chicken noodle soup was supposed to be such great comfort food. Then again, all I had had back then were Campbell’s or otherwise canned versions, and frankly, I think it would be more comforting to be beaten up with a can of soup than it would be to eat that not-very-chickeny-really-freakin’-salty-and-gross stuff.

But then I remembered my Mom’s famous turkey soup. It wasn’t so different from a chicken noodle soup, yet it was infinitely tastier. Maybe there was hope for this much-maligned recipe after all…

The humble noodle
Nikon D50

I first tried my hand at a, well, decidedly modern take on the stuff that I found in the Mayo Clinic cookbook. It had a chicken stock and soy milk base with edamame in the soup, and well…. it was weird. I didn’t like it. But then…. last winter I was just getting into making my own stock and had had wild success with using it as the base for soups – even with recipes I had panned when I had made them with commercial chicken broth (forgive me, for I knew not what I had done). So I got to thinking that maybe it was time to give chicken noodle soup another shot, and this time I was determined to give it a fair shot.

Chicken noodle soup secret weapons: the herb satchet
Nikon D50

Disillusioned by my first disaster with the stuff, I swore off recipes and struck off on my own. Amazingly, I hit pay-dirt on my first try. I had stumbled upon the First Law of Soups (anything made with a homemade stock is guaranteed to not be bland, boring, or disgusting) and the Second Law of Soups (always cook your noodles or grains in the stock).

Unfortunately, stock tends to burn a hole in my freezer. I just can’t keep the stuff on hand, I use it as soon as I make it. If I do happen to have some in there, I’m usually saving it for something specific. But tonight I found myself with quarts and quarts of it in my freezer, even above and beyond what I will need for my upcoming minestrone soup. I also just so happened to have the salvaged chicken from my last pot of stock handy, and I realized that once again, this soup’s time had come. I mean, it’s been a tough week. I could use some comfort food. Thankfully, I’ve finally found a way for this time-honored classic to actually be comforting.

Comfort meets homemade food
Nikon D50

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Jan 142008
 

Every year since I can remember, my family has eaten beef burgundy on Christmas Eve. The warm wine and beef flavors, served atop noodles, the meat perfectly tender… this is the food that memories are made of. Which is good, because it means that the substantial effort required to put this meal on the table is worth it. I mean, come on, this is a dish three days in the making – you know it has to be good. This recipe is like the poster child of the slow food movement.

The beef begins its long slow marinate
Nikon D50

Even though this year was the first that I’d ever enjoyed this meal on Christmas itself (it was our tradition to eat this on the Eve), this is the single dish that I associate the most with warm and cozy family dinners around the holidays. We often spent Christmas with extended family, but Christmas Eve was a smaller affair, and beef burgundy, with its warm and sensuous flavor, was the perfect dish for a more intimate setting.

Deliciousness is served
Nikon D50

Now that I’m all grown up, having married and struck out on my own, I find that I’m in a fun situation: I get to make my own traditions with Cory now. Not surprisingly, beef burgundy made the cut. We enjoyed our first Christmas as husband and wife huddled over a bowl (or two), eating the food that will tie the years of our lives together.

Every family deserves a beef burgundy of their own.

For the backpacker’s version of this recipe, scroll all the way to the bottom: it’s posted at the end of the traditional version of the recipe.

I don't want to wait another year to eat this again!
Nikon D50

Click for the recipe →

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