If Yan Could Cook. . .

Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

Lemon-Basil Fettucine with Chicken, Spinach, & Pine Nuts

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It seems my last life is ending, though I go through its motions: a zombie in lectures, producing papers and assignments when commanded, studying in coffeeshops. My new life overlaps: rejection letters from magazines, friends laying claim to my furniture, untouched grant applications on my desk. An acquaintance – a friend of a friend – is getting married to a man she has only been dating for half a year. I used to say, whenever the topic came up, how does anyone ever get married? How can you ever know? How can you ever know what you want for the rest of your life?

Now, after talking more deeply with other people, I think marriage is like swimming in open water, like city biking, like sex, like fighting, like rock climbing, like making new friends, being around people who are new. One day you wake up and it no longer frightens you. It’s something you’ve been doing for years, and you can no longer remember why it was frightening in the first place.

Looking at these pictures of meals, I can see around them, past the frame, to this grown-up apartment that is owned and not rented, where we are playing house for my last months in Montreal. I am still faking knowing how to cook. I have been doing that since the beginning. In my jobs, the chef comes in and asks if I can slice a lump of cured salmon into paper-thin slices for appetizer plates with a boning knife, if I can invent a salad dressing, if I can stuff flowers with cheese, if I can julienne peppers, if I can make vegetable stock from a bucket of garbage, if I can make soup or grill meat or make perfect eggs and I always say yes and it is always a lie. Somehow I am not fired; somehow I pull through. Someday it will be earnest, and JP and I will sit down to one of these meals I have fudged and made up and it will not feel like a happy accident. Someday I will not feel like a child who has woken up in an adult body expected to know things, expected to produce things, expected to be something and love someone and own lots of things together. For there is beauty in that, more beauty than assimilation: in the love and the things. For the things inside the frame, for the food and the wine and the light.

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This was an experiment which tasted great but struck me as not optimally done. With the water for the fettucine boiling, I cooked a roux of butter, flour, minced garlic and shallots, and then quickly stirred in white wine and a lot (six tablespoons-ish) of lemon juice. I cooked the sliced chicken in a separate pan, with just olive oil, salt, and pepper. After the pasta was cooked, I didn’t drain it completely, letting the spinach cook briefly in the hot pasta water and then draining the reserve. All of the parts – the thin white sauce, the chicken, the spinach and pasta mixture – were tossed together in the pot with a heaping cup of chopped fresh basil, and then served with additional salt and pine nuts.

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Primarily I wondered if making the sauce was necessary at all, and if it would have been better to have just tossed basil, lemon juice, cooked chicken, spinach, shallots, garlic, and pine nuts together – if the taste would have been sharper and cleaner. A theory to test soon.

Written by skimfu

March 22, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Chicken, Pasta

Salmon Dip, Roquefort Cream, and Other Banalities

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On a television show, one character arrived at another character’s apartment – they didn’t know each other well – and wheedled his way inside. “I have two Porterhouses and a six pack,” he said.

My initial reaction was to squeal. “That’s awesome!” I said.

My boyfriend, slightly miffed, brought up the fact that he’d been bringing me boxes of Chinese pastries regularly since we met. “Steak trumps pastry, come on,” I said. Later I conceded that while bringing raw steaks and beer to someone’s home is romantic, it’s also invasive – someone showing up to use my kitchen when I wasn’t ready for them would irritate me. Except, you know, there’d be steak.

“You think beer and steak are romantic, my dear, burly man,” he chided, gently.

Salmon Dip

I like this picture a lot, because it displays the grandeur with which I eat and hints at the squalor in which I live. The simultaneous presence of cockroaches and prosciutto is not uncommon in my home.

In the dip, in no particular order: garlic, spinach, artichoke hearts, canned salmon, sour cream, green onions, Havarti, Monterey Jack, white cheddar, lemon juice, black pepper. The garlic and spinach needed to be cooked and the cheese needed to melt, but essentially this was all just flung face-first into a pan. I’ll admit that sour cream, artichokes, and lemon juice resulted in a little too much tartness: the trick here would be to go absolutely wild on cheese. Spinach, artichokes, and enough cheese, and you could be grinding shoes into it (personally, I recommend crab, fish, or crushed nacho chips) and it would still be delicious. I ate it on Stone Wheat Thins and slices of cucumber, with a mango smoothie (frozen mangoes, ice, yogurt, juice) at hand, lazily paging through a textbook. Snow blew furiously past my window; I stayed at a distance where I could not tell if it was actually snowing or powder was just being stripped violently from the rooftops. Someone messaged me to ask if I wanted to go work out with them at a gym on the other side of town. I declined, mouth full of hot cheese, thinking, “Are you mad?”

My friends and I had a Christmas potluck during a week where I was completely strung-out from exam preparation and over-caffeination. My two addictions – academic praise and coffee – had left me looking and feeling like the junkie I was: haggard, jonesing. Dismayed at the idea that of actually cooking, I went with Roquefort cream gnocchi and the candied walnuts I had made before for a salad. As I predicted, people asked me all night if I made the potato gnocchi myself, and I had to say no (I suspect it wouldn’t be that difficult, but I don’t tend to break out the pastry bag during the school year). The dish was actually deceptively simple. The storebought (gah) gnocchi was just dipped in boiling water. The sauce was just a big hunk of blue cheese, crumbled and melted, along with micrograted white cheddar, and a full cup of 15% cream. Black pepper to taste; adding salt is for fanatics. The pasta and sauce were tossed together in a casserole dish, topped with a ridiculous layer of shredded parmigiano-reggiano, and then run under the broiler until coloured. I thought the flavour was too strong (it was a wicked blue cheese) for a group setting, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

When someone asked me what I brought, I thought about it for a moment, and said, “Cheese.”
“What else?” he inquired.
“That’s pretty much all that’s in there,” I replied.

I confess I have essentially stopped cooking during the exam period, which has been going for weeks now. Today, for example, I woke up at 5:15 a.m. and had nothing but coffee until after nine p.m., when I fell, dizzily, into the snow. I am not saying that to be melodramatic and emo – I wrote a literary analysis paper in between. And I did not follow it up with cigarettes and pouring my papery, delicate-as-glass legs into hipster jeans, sitting dead-eyed and starving through a band and then writing darkly of sensory sensations on a very different kind of blog. Once the awfulness of the paper was behind me, I did what I always do: sat in a cheerful fort made of clementine oranges and potato chips.

I think the city needs to regulate bacon consumption. I would like, very much, to sit down in a diner and be refused service, on the grounds that I have exceeded my allotment for this month.

Written by skimfu

December 18, 2008 at 2:28 am

Posted in Fish, Pasta

Pot Roast with Vegetables, Cheddar-Brie Mac and Cheese

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This past summer, I would ride my bike to work at six a.m., biking down the center of silent, empty streets, before the sun came out and began roasting people in their clothes. At the same time, there was that early-morning drugged feeling of lugging your body around before it is ready.

I had forgotten that the city sleeps in on weekends. Biking yesterday at nine a.m., I was the only one in the world, with all the crisp October sunlight to myself. If only I had known this sooner. Already the air is cold enough to strip the skin from your hands, leave your mouth raw.

Last week was a saga of sick. Four days in bed, while responsibilities rush and pile against the door like an avalanche; I made and ate a lot of congee. All you do is boil rice in nine or ten times the amount of water you would normally use to cook it (because there is no risk of burning it to the bottom, you don’t have to pay it any attention) until you get a pasty porridge. I use a mixture of regular white rice and extra-glutenous white rice (“sticky”), for better texture. With shrimp, bok-choy, white pepper, and green onions, it is perfect for eating on the couch with a box of tissues and a blanket pulled up to your ears.

This week, my dinner party hiatus ended. I asked people what they wanted – the only answers I got were “bacon” and “pasta”.

When I added the brie into the sauce, my wallet twinged with waste and remorse; when I tasted it, my knees buckled. Friends, if you ever doubt I love you, remember this night: when I tried to make your hearts stop with cream and butter and cheese and bacon.


The roast (inside round) went in the center of a casserole pot. It was surrounded by three carrots, a handful of white-fleshed potatoes, and half a large yellow onion, all chopped into large cubes, as well as a few whole cloves of garlic. This went in the oven at 400 degrees F for twenty minutes, until there were noticeable juices at the bottom. I pulled it out and loaded it with thyme, two bay leaves, a mashed beef bullion cube, and enough white wine and water to cover. On top of that went tinfoil and the lid of the dish, then into the oven at 325 degrees F for another hour. Once it came out, it was drained and carved; the broth I saved for future soupage.

For the mac and cheese, I used a roux of butter (1/2 stick) and white flour, working in about a 1/3 cup of cream. I froze a block of strong white cheddar, grated it with my “micrograter” zester, and added it in, stirring until smooth. I cut the rind off a wedge of brie, broke it up into chunks, and tossed those in too – they melted in smoothly without resistance. I thinned it out with a little wine and water, always stirring.

I dried out three pieces of bread and then ground them in the blender for crumbs. Five strips of bacon were baked in the oven on parchment paper and chopped into bits. The sauce, crumbs, and bacon were stirred into enough hot rigatoni for six people, with chives for garnish.

Edit: Forgive the platings; the food was getting cold.

Written by skimfu

October 6, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Beef, Pasta, Pork

Olive-Basil Sausage & Zucchini Linguine

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As previously mentioned, I bought sausage and linguine to use up some leftovers, and the result was surprisingly delicious. My mouth stings with garlic.

I pureed kalamata olives, basil, onions, garlic, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and canola-olive oil mix (I think this has the lightness and flavour of olive oil, for half the price) in the food processor.

I used this base – tasting somewhere between pesto and tapenade – to cook some sliced spicy Italian sausages and zucchini in half-moons-on-a-bias (pretty, and good size for eatin’). Lastly, I threw in some chopped fresh tomatoes at the very end. Served over linguine with some (again, leftover) gouda grated on top .

The problem I had before, I think, was that since I use a film camera I have to wait until the entire roll is finished before I can post about the meal with the pictures. By then I’d usually forgotten it or lost my enthusiasm for it. The obvious solution is to buy a digital camera; it’s not so much that I don’t have the money as much as it would feel like betraying my SLR that has always been too good for me and never gotten enough use. Sitting around like my hot, sexually unsatisfied housewife.

Anyway, I’m going to post the text right away, while I still have a warm stomach and sense of sedation, and add the photos later on.

And the hot, sexually unsatisfied housewife thing – that was pure projection. God, I cannot eat enough chocolate.

Written by skimfu

August 10, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Pasta, Pork