Hot plate hot problems

I don’t really know what the title of this post means. I only have a hot plate in my kitchen here, so I am going to be experimenting with Hot Plate Cooking. I haven’t even made the dish in question yet, so maybe it will be fantastic. Haaahahaha it will not.

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This picture has nothing to do with the post, I just like it. It’s from the Osh Bazaar.

Today I discovered a horrible truth: there are apartment-hunting websites far, far, far, far, far worse than Craigslist out there. Like, I am sitting here actively thinking I WISH THERE WERE CRAIGSLIST IN BISHKEK. This seems like a very bad sign just about life in general. (The ads here either don’t tell you where the apartment is or who the roommates are, or they want a girl who will pay no rent in exchange for making borsht.) Continue reading

You will regret reading this. It’s disgusting.

A few notes on this post (ugh, this already sounds like a work e-mail):

  1. If you don’t like it, you may blame Fig’s aunt. (I won’t link to her in case that’s weird.) She requested a new post. I was going to write one anyway, but then I started to feel gross, so I changed my mind, but then I changed it back again.
  2. There is a very small chance I am dying. If you don’t hear from me in a week, you may assume I am dead and move on to greener blog pastures.
  3. Everything you are about to read is gross and unpleasant, and will involve conversations with things and creatures that cannot speak in reality. (Update: I was going to relate a conversation with Fitzpatrick, but I won’t bother. It was even weirder than the rest of all this.)

A straggly band of loners. The roots of tomato disease are already visible.

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Pasta salad with all the good things

This pasta salad contains all the best things in the world. It was also utterly emotionally exhausting. During the making of it, I:

1) confronted the possibility that my cat is sick
2) lost my cat in my (300-sq-ft) apartment and was convinced he had gone somewhere to die.

He’s not dead, but a visit to the vet is definitely in the cards. (And he won’t take medicine—he’s aggressive and only eats one kind of dry food, so there’s no way to trick him—so I don’t really know what I’ll do if he’s sick. FREAKING OUT. SOMEONE HELP.)

I started out by preparing my one pound of chicken thighs—skin-in, bone-in. I did this because the happy chicken was too expensive unless I bought the most labor-intensive kind. I still have no idea how I made this edible; I tried to watch videos about how to remove the bone from chicken, but it just freaked me out more and wasn’t helpful. It was all, find the joint, and then put your knife in, and do something magical, and all of a sudden your chicken is perfect and cooked and already eaten.

Exactly.

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Seasonally incorrect pasta

I have been cooking and blogging THE ENTIRE DAY. Every post from this week was written TODAY. (Sunday.) I did not kickbox, see my bros, or really go outside (except for a fancy-grocery-store run in flip flops, during which I got wet and very cold. It was raining all day and it was nasty and horrible). I’m finally up to dinner. But I had this plan to make Swiss chard and radicchio pasta with chicken and cheese (the first title for this blog, long before I started it, was “Pasta with shit in it”), and then I looked at the weather forecast for the week and it was ridiculously hot all week. I was like nOOOOOO I CAN’T HANDLE THIS I HATE THE HEAT MY AIR CONDITIONER IS NOT INSTALLED I HAVE TO MOVE ALL MY FURNITURE ALSDKGHOIH;ER I FASLDFJ also, I had been cooking and blogging all day, did I mention that?

But I had no other options, so even though this pasta thing is definitely not even remotely appropriate for warm weather, I decided to make it anyway. I figured if I added lots of red pepper flakes and not too much cheese, it might be OK. I don’t really believe this, but we’ll see. (A few weeks ago I read a blog post that was like, “It’s getting warm, and I’ve started craving salads!” I was like, screw that, it’s getting warm and I still crave lasagna.)

This is a pasta of my own invention, born of the fact that I had a head of radicchio in my fridge. I decided to get Swiss chard as well, just because; I was going to add chickpeas, but I have stopped liking chickpeas and have been having meat cravings. Since I never crave meat, I decided I am probably anemic or something and should eat as much meat as possible. Yum. So I am having chicken, and it’s relatively happy.

I washed/chopped the radicchio and Swiss chard, and sauteéd them with olive oil. After they wilted a bunch, I added a lot of garlic (two spoonfuls of the pre-chopped stuff, probably about four cloves… no, maybe more), salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, as per my usual. They’re actually now just sitting in the pan by themselves, without the heat, since they seem to be done.

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Spring vegetable orzo + how to: make a bechamel

The title of this post is kind of a lie. I was making this orzo dish that included a bechamel, and since the dish was pretty easy and cookingly uninteresting, I was like, ooh, I can teach everyone how to make a bechamel! But it turns out I am not qualified to do that, because I have no idea how to make a bechamel. I mean, the orzo came out very good, so I guess it was successful, but I had no idea what I was doing.

Béchamels are one of those classic French sauces that everyone thinks are difficult to make. Then every cookbook author goes, “You probably think béchamels are difficult to make, but they are super easy!” Then you try, and it turns out that no, they are actually really difficult and it always goes awry.

Martha Rose Shulman, who does the Recipes for Health column at the New York Times and is one of my favorites, says this about béchamels. Hers is an olive-oil bechamel instead of butter, since she is healthy, and I used her recipe because it was a part of her other recipe that I was using. And I am not confident enough to make my own béchamels, willy-nilly.

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Baked orzo with chard

This post could also be titled: how I planned to follow a cool recipe and then decided just to make something that tasted like my favorite baked ziti and was way better than the original plan. The recipe had leeks, dill, and feta cheese, and I spent all day convincing myself that I wanted to eat these things, but I absolutely did not; I went home and made it with onions, some basil pesto from the freezer, and mozzarella. It is pretty much my ideal food, but if you don’t like pasta with tomato sauce and cheese you shouldn’t bother making it.

I will also do a tutorial on Swiss chard, since there have been questions. I love Swiss chard—it’s my favorite leafy green—but it has a very distinct and slightly weird taste, so you probably shouldn’t make it the centerpiece of your meal unless you’ve tried it. I really like it sauteed until entirely wilted and silky, with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. So you should try this.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of Swiss chard (regular, not rainbow—rainbow is prettier, but I don’t think there’s any other difference. Oh, Wikipedia says rainbow isn’t even a breed, just a bunch of different colors put together…).

The stems don’t look great—most recipes tell you to throw them out, but this one uses them, which I like. But you still have to separate them, since the stems take much longer to cook than do the leaves. You fold the leaves together behind the stem and grip the leaves in one hand, near the stem; then you just use the other hand to pull the stem out. It’s easier than it sounds. I can’t describe it properly. It’s also not an exact science.

Then you chop it.

This is maybe an excessive number of pictures of chard.

Then you combine it with onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes. For some reason, this smelled AMAZING. I mean, I thought it would smell good, but it just smelled ridiculously great. It was weird.

Oh, also, you should be listening to the MOTH Story Slam while you do all this. This episode was on. In all sincerity you need to listen to the second one, “Franny’s Last Ride.” I have somehow heard it twice and may or may not have cried both times.

Anyway. Add your chard leaves after a few minutes, then your tomato paste (TIP: You will never ever use a whole can of tomato paste before it goes moldy; stick it in the freezer) and then crushed tomatoes. I also added a few frozen tablespoons of pesto at this point, as a sort of substitute for the dill. I had added less oil than was called for at the beginning (possibly), so I figured the extra oil was OK at this point. Then orzo, cheese, etc., bake.

I baked it for only twenty minutes and it was perfect and finished and bubbly and melty.

This will not in any way serve six. Unless you and/or your friends and relatives eat far less pasta than you should.

Baked Orzo with Chard, Mozzarella and Pesto
(adapted from Serious Eats)

2 tbsp olive oil (less if you plan to use pesto, or the same amount if you don’t care how much oil you eat, which is proper and correct)
1 small-to-medium onion (depending on how oniony you want your pasta), diced
1 large bunch chard, rinsed well, leaves and stems divided; stems cut in ribbons, stems diced
2 medium cloves garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Basil, chopped, or pesto
1 c (5 oz) uncooked orzo
4 oz mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a two-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (or not. I cooked it on the stove in my Dutch oven and then just transferred the Dutch oven to the oven).

Heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion, chard stems, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook about four minutes, until not quite brown. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s not in the recipe.) Add tomato paste and cook for another minute; add chard leaves and cook until wilted. Add crushed tomatoes and orzo and bring to a boil. If you’re using frozen pesto, you might as well add it now so it can defrost and become incorporated. Stir well and remove from heat. Add mozzarella cheese (and fresh basil, if using. I can’t comment on what happens to basil when you bake it but I assume it’s fine. Basil rules).

At this point I just covered the Dutch oven with its lid and stuck it in the oven for twenty minutes; if you’re Dutch-oven-less, put a piece of aluminum foil over your baking dish and cover tightly. If you wish, uncover after twenty minutes and bake for an additional twenty. My orzo was cooked after twenty and I was OK with the level of browning so I didn’t bother.

 

Something amazing recently happened to Fitzpatrick: he is now a unicorn.

Marcella’s tomato sauce

Last week was a week of healthy Indian food, low on carbs, and tons of kickboxing. I was kind of hungry and salt-deprived all week and was generally feeling weird and dizzy and light-headed, so I decided I should return to my food roots this week and just have tons of pasta. This is the way my body is used to functioning, and things turn weird when I don’t eat enough pasta/carbs. (I am actually serious about this. I think it’s my metabolism. I can’t get full unless I have a lot of carbs.)

So I wanted to find a way to make pasta interesting, since usually I just put some things on it and that’s it. I am planning to do Swiss chard, chickpeas, and cheese (gruyere and/or mozzarella), in the vein of that one thing I made a while ago and took horrible cell-phone pictures of, but then I thought I would do a real tomato sauce. I have made tomato sauce before, but always just by throwing things into a pot of simmering crushed tomatoes—I wanted, this time, to do a big, real one. So I’m doing the one Marcella Hazan describes as “the most concentrated and the most strongly flavored”: Tomato Sauce I. I’m using canned tomatoes because it is April and there are no good tomatoes anywhere (and also because even when it is tomato season all the tomatoes I can ever find are nasty).

This recipe involves a full half-cup of olive oil. Ew. I am sautéeing 1/3 c onions in it now, and will soon add carrots and celery, finely diced. (That’s what I meant about a real tomato sauce—so many small bits in it.)

There are very few pictures for this post, and all of them are very bad.

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Atlanta: all good things

I visited my sister and bro-in-law a few weeks ago for MLK Day, and they wanted to see the Relatively Shitty Cook in action. We made this really cool and interesting radicchio pasta from Sarah’s pasta cookbook (I can’t remember the name or author! so I can’t cite it! Sorry, mysterious cookbook writer), and honey beer cake from Booze Cakes. (Sweet, they have a website.)

The pasta recipe was sort of a weird decision—I don’t know why we picked it. It had raddichio—how in God’s name do you spell that? I’m just going to use a variety of options—and that ham that’s not prosciutto… ugh, I’m really hungry and can’t write this now. Anyway, at the supermarket it took about ten minutes and three or four supermarket employees to find it. This is not an exaggeration; the entire staff was running every which way trying to find it. It was exciting. Then we couldn’t find any heavy cream, and were peering through the slats in the dairy case where a man was unloading things, trying to get his attention so he could give us cream. The bro was convinced we would not be able to find honey beer, but in fact it was the first thing in the beer aisle. However, we didn’t buy it, in case it was nasty; we got raspberry Shocktop instead. It is a strange supermarket indeed that stocks honey beer but not cream.

Anyway. I chopped radicchio and leeks for the pasta.

They literally do not have light in their kitchen.

My bro sauteed/rendered porchetta (porchetta? is that what I mean?); it soon began popping, popcorn-style, and flying all over the kitchen. I picked one up off the floor. It was like a meat fireball.

We sauteed the leeks …

… added cream, and added the radicchio, which then cooked down for a while until it could fit in the pot. We combined everything with pasta and ate it with wine and cheese like fancy people.

We had started making the cake before dinner, and it baked while we ate. After dinner, and after several glasses of wine, we had to make the frosting, which was confectioner’s sugar, butter, and beer, as far as I recall. After we finished assembling it, it was very clearly not frosting. It was mostly liquid. I was like, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO US? Then I was like, oh shit, I added a completely wrong quantity of sugar. Anyway, it never frosting-ized; it just sort of gooped. Then it soaked into the cake, leaving nothing but a dull sugary sheen and infusing the cake with a sense of oversugaration.

It was pretty good, though. But very sweet. The next morning, it looked like we had never frosted it at all, which was a little disturbing. I do not know what happened to it since.

Immediately after frosting.

Trader Jacqui’s Blogging Debut!!! Eggplant Pasta

Sometimes, veggies are rotten before you even bring them home. Sometimes, they’re just sitting on the shelf, hiding their dirty rotten secret under their glamorous purple skin, and you have no idea until it’s too late and it’s snowing outside and the curbs are already prepped for the “is it street or is it slush?” game and your cooking partner’s only pair of shoes is high-heeled leather (pleather?) boots. That is exactly the kind of night it has to be for you to discover that your main ingredient is just not going to make the cut.

However, this cooking partner of mine (you all know her as the true owner of this blog) and I have been together for the better part of two decades, and mushy brown eggplant really can’t stop us. We’ve been cooking for longer than I can remember. Our middle-school selves were hooked on filming the process of preparing store-brand macaroni and cheese. Photos wouldn’t have been able to capture that titillating gushy noise you get while stirring the freshly cooked processed goodness. We once tried to make cheese out of skim milk. After that we made soft pretzels … with sprinkles mixed in. We eventually graduated to trying out the cake recipes in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook (i.e. the quintessential guide to being a housewife), but to no avail (whipped egg whites does not a frosting make). I’d say our failures were due not to our own relative shittiness, but to the recipes themselves, and their incomprehensible lack of user-friendliness.

And so, thanks to our almost-two decades of failures, it felt natural for us to be forced into the sparkly NYC snow, me in my galoshes, her in my two-sizes-too-big snow boots, to pick up a new eggplant, boyfriend in tow. And I’m glad we did. We also got a can of diced tomatoes to replace the bruschetta called for in the recipe (taken from The I Love Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook). The recipe was a pretty basic veggie-over-pasta concoction. It was very wintery with eggplant, cremini mushrooms (Julie calls them “fancy mushrooms”), and bowtie pasta. We added one sweet onion, caramelized.

I’ve always been a control freak in my kitchen, but I’m trying to loosen up and let Julie take the lead every once in a while. Even as I saw her pick up the bottle of olive oil without a measuring tool and carry it over to our frying pan, I let it happen. Then, I poured some of the olive oil from the pan down the drain. I guess I still have a ways to go on that one. So we caramelized the onions (I wish Julie had gotten a picture of me slicing the onions in ski goggles) and then added garlic, sliced creminis, diced tomatoes, and the new eggplant, which had been sweating for about half an hour.

I threw in a whole bunch of Bohemian Forest Rub, a mix from Savory Spice Shop in Austin, TX. We let that simmer on medium-low heat for about ten minutes and cooked up the pasta.

It all went into a big polka-dotted oval stone dish, with plenty of goat cheese available on the side. I am entirely convinced that everything I cook looks better in a round or oval dish.

In the end, the eggplant was still a bit too bitter. I guess we should pay more attention to the seasons when we cook, or skin the eggplant first, or cut it into smaller pieces. I’d say the dish would have been phenomenal without the eggplant, maybe even served over toasted French bread. We rounded the meal off with a “mixed green” salad, red wine vinaigrette, five-buck pinot grigio, and an ooey gooey cinnamon square dessert (god bless Smitten Kitchen) that I’d prepared beforehand over ice cream.

All in all, a wonderful snowday meal, and quite beginner-friendly and quick. And Julie overcame her fear of goat cheese. And I overcame my fear of Julie in my kitchen.