Monday, October 10, 2011

the cooking zone

Sometimes I just want to spend five hours or so in my kitchen. I have a job. I have a degree. I CHOOSE to do it. I am not a betrayor of the feminist cause. I just really, really love to cook sometimes.

It can be a Sunday afternoon spent by the stove, making my morning oats for the week, idly planning my life, dreamily staring into the mixture where thick milky bubbles slowly work their way to the surface of the pot.


Another night, I had beautiful fresh produce and I was craving a beautiful meal. I am definitely of the belief that looks can be deceiving, and a big plate of brown much can be great. Still, we eat with our eyes first, and sometimes it can be gratifying to create something beautiful and present it, a work of art, to one’s dining companions.

It helps when you are lucky enough to live in a house filled with pristine fresh local produce.

Kale, steamed until just tender; still vibrantly green.


Fresh tomato, slow roasted until its juices had condensed its slices into small, impossibly sweet slivers of flavor.


And sliced onions and mushrooms, made in a process in which I forced myself to be patient, slow cooked and caramelized, finished with mushroom soy sauce for a complex depth of flavor.


And so began a delicious layering process of a meal that turned out to be nutritionally balanced, beautiful in color, subtle and tasty in flavor, and totally incidentally vegan.

I began with the kale, drizzled in olive oil and topped with some fresh field peas from the farmer’s market (think black eyed peas, but I boiled them til they were just al dente, so with a little more oomph than the canned stuff)


Then I added the onions and tomatoes to the center, a veritable bulls eye of dinner.


Slightly bitter kale+ rich olive oil+ earthy and meaty beans+ sweet tomatoes+ sweet but umami-deep caramelized onions and mushrooms= really amazing depth of flavor.

The individual components were great on their own but this combination was highly synergistic. And again, did I mention it was pretty?


Also appropriated some leftover components into rice salad, a dish of which my mother has always been very fond, as was her mother. I got How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for my birthday (!! Believe me guys, we will talk about this), and he has literally dozens of variations on rice salad. So stoked.


This one had leftover brown rice, green onion, fresh parsley, peas, chopped date, and strawberry vinaigrette. Highly tasty.

My next cooking zone evening began with quality inspiration. I was at the farmer’s market on Saturday and the wonderful Farmer’s Market Chef series had one of its demos set up. The adorable French chef from 2941 (an incredible-sounding restaurant where I have not yet been) was making butternut squash ravioli. It was rich and perfectly seasonal for the rather raw and grim days we’d been having.

Meanwhile, Steve was out of town and there was nothing exciting going on that night. I was home alone and rather forlorn without the company of my loved ones.

Obviously, I had to make butternut squash ravioli.

I roasted a sweet and petite squash and mashed it to tenderness, incorporating some milk to help whip it together, salt and pepper, lots of sage, and just a bit of Parmesan (as it turned out, a little went a long way).

Filling was LUSCIOUS. Butternut has an amazing silkiness.


I have pasta making experience, but wanted to amp up the nutrition factor and so used this whole wheat pasta recipe. The dough was rather sticky so I tried to work with it carefully.


I also declined to use my machine, since it seemed more trouble than it was worth (particularly since it’d seemed to be a two-person job the previous time I’d used it). I was in no rush. I liked the idea of using my hands and a rolling pin; more traditional tools.

I’d roll it out…


Trim it into an even rectangle


Dab on filling


Fold the top over and slice it


And put it on a flour dusted plate, with more flour between layers, and covered it with a cloth while I worked on other rounds.


The process took two hours, probably more. I listened to Nelly on repeat (which I just sometimes feel irresistible urges to do while cooking); felt the cold, sticky weight of dough in my hands; smelled the aromas of my kitchen; pinched corners as I pursed my lips, seeking a good shape; patched holes with tiny dough scraps. It was wonderful.

I ended up with a beautiful dinner for one.


I ended up freezing most of the ravioli; for a busy weeknight in the future when I want something gourmet. My small but oh-so-satisfying batch I boiled for barely two minutes (it told me when it was done by very considerately floating to the top), and then I drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled it with fresh ground black pepper and a whisper of Parmesan.


The filling was sweet and rich. The pasta was chewy and nourishing.


It was a meal to nibble on and linger over. I have to say, while I happily put grueling planning and effort into cooking for my loved ones, if it’s just me home for dinner the odds are good I will just make eggs… or just grab boxes out of the fridge and stick a fork in them.

There’s something nice about enjoying the ritual of a lovely, delicious, labor-intensive cooking process- just to make dinner for me, myself and I.


Rounding out the meal was seriously a favorite salad of mine that I am due to post about. Yes those are fresh peaches. Get ready.


At a certain point I ran out of filling and the dough was looking a little too gummy to work anymore anyway. So I just cut it (highly informally; I actually just got out my pizza cutter and improvised noodles) and saved it for lunch the next day.

I ended up making it for my mama, tossed with fresh homemade tomato sauce. Good stuff!


Excited to see where the zone takes me next :D


Steven Alexander Heathcliff Basil Bert said...

I totally know and love your feeling of idly planning life while staring into an inchoate cluster (which in time will become a savory creation). Such good restoration.

Also, those butternut squash ravioli look splendimonious. I'm glad the filling came out so well for you. I know what I will be planning for the next chance I'm afforded in "the cooking zone."

Shannon ~ My Place In The Race said...

I LOVE the Coconut Creme bubble bath! It smells amazing!!