Friday, September 24, 2010

Cooking with Ed

Cooking isn't really as much fun without someone to share with. A meal is an ephemeral thing - it takes time, thought, preparation and creativity, but at the end of the day.... it's food. We eat it and then it's gone. So the best thing to do is share it. Work together with someone else to prepare a meal and the process is twice as fast - and a zillion times more fun. And some meals are just made for two people to enjoy together. Splitting a small chicken might mean fewer leftovers, but it also means that the meal is enjoyed at its best - warm and crackling from the oven.

I'm lucky to have met my culinary match in Ed. That's right, ladies, swoon with jealousy: this dude knows his way around the kitchen. He's made so many delicious dinners for me that I've gotta bring my A game every time I cook for him. These pizzas? At the very least, they get an A for effort. And probably another A for awesome.

The margherita pizza started with Trader Joe's pizza dough - though we sometimes just pop next door to the pizza shop and buy a ball of dough from them for a couple of dollars. On top, whole basil leaves, a light schmear of homemade tomato sauce (made with tomatoes I'd canned and basil I'd frozen earlier in the summer along with garlic and a bit of olive oil) and slices of fresh mozzarella. Ciao bella!

The second pizza was topped with the same tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella and sauteed red peppers and leeks from the CSA. We also shredded some of the Parmesan Formerly Belonging to Jessica on top, and I meant to put red pepper flakes on, too, but I.... flaked. (Ba dum chhhh!) Mama luna!

Ahhh, homemade pizza and cold beer on the couch. What could be better?

Oh, I dunno. How about coming home after a long day of work to this?

A perfectly brined and roasted free range chicken, surrounded by your CSA share of potatoes, onions and herbs, all warm and yummy smelling and juicy and amazing, and served with these:

Ed's delicious green beans and potatoes in a rich tomato sauce, slicked with olive oil and fragrant with herbs. I can't even tell you how good these were. If you're jealous of the above picture, you should be. I'm jealous of it myself. Sweet baby Jesus, those were good.

Cooking for two? I highly recommend it. Especially when the cook is Ed!

Comfort Me With Dairy Products

It's been a rough couple of weeks at Chez CookingInsideTheBox; nothing too tragic, but between a bit of moderate apartment-related turmoil (including two weeks without a stove after a gas company snafu) and a fair-to-middlin' amount of work stress, I've been reaching for the takeout menus even more often than usual these days.

Even the dopest sag paneer delivery, though, can't compare to the soul-soothing abilities of a home cooked meal made with super fresh veggies. Accordingly, these last two weeks have been all about the three C's of comfort food: creamy, cheesy and crunchy.

First up, creamed corn. I saw a recipe in the NY Times for a sophisticated version of creamed corn and thought, hell yeah! But I don't like gorgonzola, I was fresh out of pine nuts and the four ears of corn in the fridge were on their last legs after a week waiting for the gas to be turned back on. They weren't about to wait for me to make a Sahadi's run. It was corn time. Stat.

A quick search of the fridge revealed that there was no heavy cream to be found, either. Ruhh roh! (Side note: it's kind of worrying how often there *is* heavy cream to be found in my fridge. I really gotta get right with my arteries one of these days.) But the internet came to the rescue: adding cornstarch to half and half would approximate the thickening capabilities of proper heavy cream. Ta da! Sweet, al dente yellow kernels bathed in a thin, creamy sauce. Eaten out of a bowl in front of the television, it requires no accompaniments - but would match almost any entree.

Creamed corn
serves at least two, probs four

4 ears of corn
2T butter
1/3 c. half and half
about a teaspoon or so of cornstarch
salt and pepper

Cut the kernels off the cob. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the corn, stir for a minute or two. Add the half and half, then sprinkle the cornstarch over the whole mess. Stir it around, add salt and pepper, cook for about five minutes. Om nom nom.

Next up: the return of Trader Joe's burrata!

This summer has been incredibly generous to us, at least as far as tomatoes go. Last summer, our CSA's farmer had a problem with tomato blight; we all got a few tomatoes, but nowhere near the embarrassment of tomato riches we'd been looking forward to. We realized, of course, that we'd taken on the risks as well as the benefits of farming as members of the CSA. But we were all crying on the inside. Crying for tomatoes. Big, red, juicy, sloppy tomatoes.

This summer's bounty has more than made up for last year's drought. We are practically swimming in tomatoes this year: Yellow! Green! Pink! Zebra striped! We've made caprese salads and BLTs and panzanella and tomato and bacon salads and... and... oh man. I think it's finally happened. I can't believe I'm admitting this, but....

I'm a little bit sick of tomatoes.

But hey, you know what I'm not sick of? Burrata! Our local Trader Joe's, always an excellent source of cheap burrata, had stopped carrying it earlier in the summer. "Noooooooo!" I cried, "What shall I do without 24/7 access to delicious mozzarella cheese pouches full of mozzarella cheese scraps and cream?!" Then I picked up a couple of packages of Trader Joe's French macarons and a six pack of Simpler Times lager and things got a little better. But still. I drifted past the cheese section every time I visited, hoping against hope for sweet, sweet burrata.

As you can guess, this story has a happy ending. See above: burrata, which has the magical ability to make even one's hundredth tomato salad of the year a thing of ethereal beauty.

And finally, tonight's dinner was inspired by Smitten Kitchen's creamed chard and spring onions recipe. I had to figure out something that would go with the mushroom ravioli I'd picked up on a whim earlier this week. I was thinking beets and walnuts, but the beets were taking forever to roast and I knew I'd better use up the chard before Ed comes over this weekend. (Before last week's CSA pickup, he'd texted me, "No chard this time, ok?! Please?") And there was one sad little leek leftover from last week's haul - a perfect substitute for spring onions, right? Oh, and that amazingly salty and crumbly two year old Parmesan that Jessica had given me a few weeks ago would be spectacular shaved over the top of this!

Friday night in the kitchen. I pour myself a glass of wine and get to chopping. In barely more than twelve minutes, this:

becomes this:

One more glass of wine and a brand new copy of the new Sophie Kinsella novel - which is even cheesier than this pasta, and just about as delicious - and all is right with the world. At least for tonight!