True Life: I can’t cook

A big accomplishment for me.

When I watch cooking shows or thumb through cookbooks, I gaze at their finished results with the same awe I’ve been watching the Olympics with.

Wow. I wish I could do that.

Like becoming an Olympic athlete, being a cook takes training, practice and if you ask me, some level of innate skill. All of which explains why I’m terrible at cooking (and sports, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion).

I basically didn’t start cooking until I went away to college and had to fend for myself. Growing up, my mom tried to engage me in the kitchen but I always refused

“Angie,” she would groan, exasperated, “how will you ever get married if you can’t cook? You need to be able to cook for your husband, you know.

(I was probably around 12.)

“Ma, I don’t need to cook because I’m gonna have a maid, a butler, AND a cook, and I’ll let them worry about doing all that.”

Boy, am I eating my words now.

Cooking in college wasn’t great practice either. I mostly lived off macaroni and cheese, sandwiches, salads and anything that came in a box, bag, or other package and could be nuked in a few minutes.

And as far as natural ability– yea, I have none. My mom isn’t great and I never knew my grandparents well enough to comment on their cooking, but if anyone in our family had a culinary gene, I didn’t get it. Oh and my dad? His idea of a good dinner is a Burger King Whopper and half a carton of rocky road ice cream. That’s the gene I got.

But these days, I’m trying to change my ways. I can’t say I’m trying hard enough but I make an attempt every now and then. (After all, I don’t want to end up a spinster now that I know the harsh reality of a journalist’s salary.)

Usually the result is edible but slightly undercooked, overcooked, mushy, rubbery, unsalted, greasy or just plain ugly.

Which is why, on those very rare occasions when I manage to actually pull something off in the kitchen, I’m very proud of myself. Especially if it was something that didn’t come from a mix or other prepackaged easy-way-out form.

Recently, for a dinner at home with Flaneur, we divvied up the cooking and decided that he would make steaks and I would be in charge of a vegetable side. I could’ve taken the easy route and thrown some brussels sprouts or broccoli into the steamer, but I felt like trying something new. It wasn’t so much that I was up for a challenge, but more that I wanted something sweet: I had sweet potatoes on the brain. But not just regular sweet potatoes, which I’ve cooked before as fries (charred black on the bottom, limp and mushy everywhere else) and steamed in big chunks (seemingly ok from the outside, hard and undercooked at the core). I wanted sweet potato casserole.

Up close and personal with deliciousness

Some of you might laugh, and think ha, so easy. But nothing is ever too easy for me when it comes to cooking. (Example: I recently made chocolate pudding from a Jell-O Instant Pudding mix and even that was off. Instead of being smooth, it was chock full of little clumps. Think tapioca.)

Now, I’ve never made sweet potato casserole but I’ve eaten it in large quantities, mostly at Thanksgiving dinners where I always get seconds and thirds and sometimes, if no one is looking, fourths.

After a run to the supermarket, I came back and went at it with no recipe, just a vague idea of what to do. First I boiled three big sweet potatoes (skin and all), cut into smaller chunks, for about 10 minutes until they were soft. Then I took them out and with Flaneur’s help, mashed them with a fork until I had bright orange puree.  Strictly eyeballing it, I added about half a cup of milk, maybe two tablespoons of butter, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. I then stirred it into an even, sweet smelling paste and transferred it to a baking pan. Then the really fun part: marshmallows. I covered the orange sweet potato blend with a thick layer of fluffy white mini-marshmallows, popped the pan in the oven for about 30 minutes and voila!

When I pulled open the oven door, a warm delicious burst of that spicy sweet cinnamon smell reminiscent of so many Thanksgivings past, filled the tiny kitchen. If I could bottle that smell, I would spray it in my apartment till the air was foggy.

The marshmallows were toasted to a nice gold color. No charring. No burnt smell. So far, so good. The true test, however, would be in the taste.

Digging the serving spoon into the pan, I pulled out a steaming orange heap of mashed sweet potato, the melted marshmallow making little strings of white, like gooey cheese on a pizza. Verdict: delicious!

It looked good AND tasted good! Practically unheard of when I make food. In fact, it was so good that Flaneur and I finished it off by the next day, eating a cold spoonful here and there throughout the day. That’s how good it was: you could it eat cold and it was still yummy.

So why write about a side dish that even the most elementary cook can whip up? Well, because it’s renewed my hope in becoming better at cooking. Maybe there’s hope for me yet. Maybe I can learn to cook things that are not just edible,  but actually delicious. Maybe my cooking will be so great that I’ll have a line of suitors out the door, all begging for my hand in marriage and my cooking for the rest of their lives.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll win the lottery and spring for that personal chef I’ve always wanted.

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I beat the NY Times to saying it first…

A couple of weeks ago I sang the praises of the best pizza on this side of the Atlantic, and now it looks like I’m not the only one that thinks Motorino is awesome! A restaurant review in today’s New York Times has nothing but great things to say about the East Village and Brooklyn pizzerias. (Although, they do prefer the Brooklyn location because of it’s bigger space.)

“Motorino is having a moment. That seems fair. It serves the city’s best pizza,” writes Sam Sifton, whose job I’m insanely jealous of. (He got paid to eat there and then write about it. Ugh, color me envious.)

You heard that? The city’s BEST pizza. Who knows how many pizzerias are packed into this city and Motorino is the best. I said it, the New York Times said it, God himself probably agrees.

To really complete this, I think a trip to Brooklyn is in order.

Read what the Times and I have to say about this most delicious of New York pizzas. Try not to drool.

A “Fatty” good time

When your boyfriend is allergic to shellfish it’s probably not the best idea to go somewhere with “crab” in the name. And I knew that, but after the first time I ate at Fatty Crab (without him) I knew I had to go back and bring him with me. He’s my eating partner in crime and not sharing it with him would’ve made me a terrible person.

Figuring that never in a million years would we be able to snag a table for Valentine’s Day on Sunday, we tried our luck on Saturday and succeeded. The wait at the West Village Fatty Crab was only 30 minutes and knowing what we were about to get into, I was more than happy to wait less than an hour.

Flaneur wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I told him we were having Malaysian but as we were led to our table, sandwiched between two others about an inch apart on each side, I was so giddy I was practically bouncing in my seat.

The waiter came by and gave us the standard schpeel: they serve stuff as it’s done in the kitchen, so no requesting this first and that second. You get it when it’s ready. But most importantly, most things on the menu contain peanut or shellfish products, so heads up to anyone with allergies.

Flaneur shot me a look of terror. We explained our dilemma to the waiter who in turn gave me a look that said “Really, lady? Did you guys not read CRAB in the name?” But I wasn’t going to let a silly allergy stop us, so I scanned the menu, picked a few things that didn’t have shellfish explicitly listed as ingredients and then ran them by the waiter who confirmed that we should be ok with those.

Flaneur still looked worried but we went on anyway.

Neither words nor pictures can do this dish any justice.

First out was our appetizer: the mind-blowing, I-don’t-care-how-many-calories-are-in-this-cause-it’s-so-good-it’s-worth-two-hours-on-the-treadmill pickled watermelon and crispy pork salad. Don’t let the salad part fool you. This was NOT the average lettuce creation. Far from it. Salad here meant thick chunks of juicy, red watermelon topped with crispy-on-the-outside, melt-in-your-mouth soft-on-the-inside pork belly. The salad part of it was probably referring to the bit of greens on top, which to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t even say what they were (lemon grass maybe?) because I was so completely possessed by the watermelon-pork combo. I imagine this is what they must serve in heaven (although I’m sure there’s also a vegetarian option).

Spicy never felt so good.

I could’ve called it a night at that point and happily skipped home, but luckily before we had even finished the “salad,” our next plate was out: a house specialty, the Fatty Duck. A note here: if you like spicy food, this is the thing to get. Chunky strips of soft, juicy duck topped with a small mountain of chopped tangy, fiery peppers, all atop a bed of white tamaki rice. Eating this just makes you feel more exotic, and once all those flavors start dancing around in your mouth and the heat from the peppers starts tingling in your throat and synuses, you could almost swear that you’ve been transported to some lush Malaysian jungle somewhere. It’s one of those dishes that makes you stop after every bite and look in awe at the person you’re eating with and say, “This is SO…damn…good. I can’t believe how good this is.” You go on chomping away, wondering what bit of karma brought you to this wonderful place and this amazing duck.

Flaneur, who’s tolerance for spicyness is on the weak side, danced on the thin line between pleasure and pain. Between  long  gulps of beer and water to soothe what must’ve felt like an actual fire scorching his insides, he managed to get out a few words, “Ohmygodthisisdelicious!” I was afraid he was about to spew fire like some mythical dragon, but thankfully our next dish came soon after, like the fire engine pulling up to the burning house just in time.

Chicken soup for the fatty's soul.

Pushing glasses and plates around like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, we made room for our third and final Fatty specialty: the chicken claypot. As its name suggests, a claypot of ginger, chicken and tofu soup was wedged on to our table along with a bowl heaped with coconut rice. After the intense heat of the duck, which we were still working on when the claypot arrived, the soup was calming and smooth, like good chicken soup should always be. Tender fat pieces of chicken bobbed around with tofu in the zesty broth, and the coconut rice went perfectly either mixed in or by itself. (I tried it both ways, duh.) Just the rice, which you’d think being standard white rice wouldn’t be anything to write home about, was amazing. This  fluffy, sweet coconut rice was good enough to eat whole bowls of.

So even though we had to shy away from Fatty Crab’s famed shellfish plates because of Flaneur’s allergies, everything was so ridiculously good that I’m declaring this one of my favorite places to eat, not just in New York, but overall. And really, with Fatty in the name, we’re pretty much a perfect match.

Fatty Crab in New York

“Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays…”

After a long day of work on a Monday that most other people had off, followed by a failed post-work shopping excursion to find an outfit for a specific event, followed by a cold walk in the snow when you left both your hat and the hood to your coat at home, there is nothing better than finally getting home and having someone else cook you dinner. It’s even better when that someone is Italian and they’re cooking pasta. Monday, you just redeemed yourself.

The highlight of my Monday: Spaghetti alla carbonara

Love is a sugar-coated marshmallow

C'mon, how you could you NOT love these?

Some people hate them, some people don’t, but me? I LOVE Peeps. Fluffy, adorable little marshmallows, what’s not to love?

I actually remember when they only sold them around Easter and only in the little chick form, hence the name Peeps. But now that they sell them in every shape, color and for every holiday, I’ve embraced them just the same.

I’d never seen these particular Peeps before and since the theme for this weekend was sugary indulgence, I bought them. Valentine’s Day is about love, and I love Peeps.

Sweets with my sweet

The "Ooh-la-la" cupcake.

Valentine's Day weekend just got a little happier.

Ah Valentine’s Day. A time for all things red and pink, heart shaped and lovey-dovey. While I’m not a Cupid-hating, I’m-only-gonna-wear-black-today, Valentine’s Day hater I do think it’s somewhat overrated and a bit artificial. I’ve never been one for red roses, I hate those little chalky hearts, and I can’t stomach most of the things Hallmark writes inside of those saccharine cards of theirs.

I do however, LOVE cupcakes— on Valentine’s Day, the day after and every other day of the year. So in honor of this weekend-o-love, Flaneur and I decided to share a Crumbs Ooh-la-la cupcake, the perfect symbol for the occasion: pink, topped with a heart, and deliciously, over the top sweet.

Sexist chocolate

I took it as a personal challenge.

A few years ago, Flaneur and I were at a convenient store in London, in a hurry but waiting in line to pay for something. Right as the person in front of us finished and it was our turn to move up, I saw something that caught my eye.

A chocolate bar sitting amongst the other candy with something I’d never seen written on a candy wrapper before: “It’s not for girls!”

“Hey look,” I said to Flaneur, tugging on his shirt. “What’s that about?”

“Heh, funny,” he said distractedly, grabbing his receipt and bag. “C’mon, let’s go.”

Like I’ve mentioned before, his sweet tooth is a baby tooth compared to my non-stop-sweet-craving monster molar of a sweet tooth, so I wasn’t surprised when he scooted me out of the store without caring much about the strange candy bar.

And so I never bought it, or even so much as looked at it closer, or even saw it again since I went back to Italy where they definitely don’t sell it.

But then, just a few days ago, I found myself having a strange moment of déjà vu.

I was waiting in line at a deli (the New York cousin of the convenient store), alone this time, but still in a hurry (because Lost was starting in about 5 minutes and I was still 3 blocks from home) when I saw something out of the corner of my eye: “It’s not for girls!”

Ohmygod! There it is!

With one person still in front of me, I darted to the candy bar and snatched it.

Ah ha! I got you this time!

I ran home (no, really, I did) and bounded in through the door just as the new episode came on. Flaneur, who was already sitting on the couch, looked at me.

“Just in time,” he said with a chuckle.

“Yea, and look what I found,” I panted, digging around for the candy bar before pulling it out and holding it up like it was the Holy Grail.

“Woa! You found it!” he said, surprising me that he actually remembered a chocolate bar from almost 3 years ago. (That’s typical of me, not him. Maybe I’m rubbing off on him.)

During a commercial break I picked up the candy bar and gave it a closer inspection. “Yorkie: it’s not for girls!” screamed the blue wrapper with the big, bold yellow letters.

Well what the hell? What’s in this thing? Maybe it has a peanut and caramel covered beef jerky core. Why else would it not be for girls?

Silly Brits, it's JUST chocolate.

But as I read the ingredients I was surprised to see that it was just chocolate. Nothing crunchy or gooey or sticky, just a solid chunk of milk chocolate, divided into squares.

Psssh! What a joke!

I tore the wrapper open and sure enough, nothing a girl couldn’t handle. It was a pretty thick chocolate bar, but by no means intimidating.

I broke off two squares, one for me and one for Flaneur, who ate it without any of the inspection or analysis I had put into it.

Those Brits have a strange sense of humor, I thought as I finished the rest of the Yorkie, proving to it that this particular girl could definitely handle a silly British chocolate bar.