Requiem For A Sous-Chef

23 December 2011

Sous-Chef Ella sez: "So, we're going to cook something soon, then eat it, yes? I propose a Science Diet terrine, with a tuna-juice reduction."

I met my sous-chef where all good chefs and sous-chefs meet: Petco.  She had built a little fort in her cage at the Adopt-A-Pet event, only leaving it to nuzzle my hand.  Needless to say, she was straight-up hired.  While at the store, Ella and I began talking – her mostly – about how living behind a Shakey’s Pizza was not all that awesome; how eating leftover Mojo Potoatoes and meowing at people was; about how birds are fucking evil and should be hunted down and killed; and about how, as underrated as it is, the movie The Third Man is pretty fucking amazing.  After leaving Petco, and contemplating my future over some mediocre bar fries, then some terrible bar tacos, then some more (made passable by my affinity for, and frequent drinking of, cheap booze) delicious bar tacos, I decided that Ella and I should partner up, and even perhaps start our own place for food and drink.  “Why the hell not,” I thought.  I was, after all, a cook at heart, and in a job I was pretty sure was dead-end; and Ella, aside from being a stray cat, had just been fired by Eric Ripert, at Le Bernardin, after consuming a full three-quarters of the food she was supposed to have been preparing.

Eric sez: "I azk you to cook the Feesh, but you eat it, instead! I knew I should never have hired a cat! Thees is what I get for being a Buddhist."

The night before we started our adventure, and full of Escoffier-inspired brilliance and The Glenlivet, I cooked one of the best meals of my life for my buddy, Ali.  Roasted bone marrow, crostini topped with a melange of marinated veg, and seafood etoufee that would make John Besh fucking weep.  I was so excited for the new venture Ella and I were to embark upon.  But, if I’m being being honest – and before you cast Drew Berrymore as the voice of Ella in this Disney movie – you should know that the first few months of our culinary partnership was, to put it mildly, more fucking contentious then the Boer War and Darfur, combined.  “You’re short rib braising liquid is anemic, at best!” she would yell.  “You’re scared of cooking protein!” she would scream.  “If you can’t cook fish en papillote, then why do you insist on doing it?!” she would growl.  This was not an easy cat with which to work.  And all the while I kept wondering (because I’m single-minded and irony ignorant), “Will the Bengals ever win a fucking Super Bowl during my lifetime?!?!” I could see in her eyes, and in the liberal way she would use her seemingly Adamantium-made claws, that she was reconsidering our arrangement.  Things were dicey, but I still knew deep in my heart that something special was happening.  I loved opening our little place every morning.  I loved seeing her come in to work, ready to start the day, with that special look of deranged and out-of-place superiority plastered on her adorable mug.  She had been beaten down, but she was still all spit and balsamic vinegar and white truffle oil.

Ella sez: "Yeah, I get that it's a toy fucking squirrel. But CAN I EAT IT?!?!?"

Our venture started off in a stand-off.  I wanted to cook the things I had always cooked, and was comfortable cooking, but she was adamant that I try new things, and that she scratch and hiss at me when she, herself,  happened to be uncomfortable.  Soon enough, though, she started to rub off on me (mostly on my leg): I started cooking things I wasn’t so comfy with, like Japanese food, and more protein, and larger pieces of the hobos I harvested during the winter months.  She, too, seemed to get more comfortable.  Less and less would she savage my appendages, less and less did she tag my walls with slogans, such as “THE ICKEY SHUFFLE WAS A STUPID FUCKING DANCE.”  She began putting up with my more whimsical dishes, even when they didn’t work, and unbelievably allowed the occasional caprice of making two different types of mushroom risotto on consecutive nights (and she even let me kiss her on her head, every once in a while).  She did insist, however, that I begin baking.  “It’s baking or the claws” she said.  At this point she had taken to sleeping near my face, so I took stock of my options and bought some damn flour.

Yeah, I get it: mix it, rest it, kneed it, rest it, rest it, rest it, proof it, rest it, kneed it, rest it, proof it, rest it, rest it, rest it, rest it proof it, rest it, proof it, GIVE UP. It's like the French people of food.

After years of toiling away at our venture, I knew that Ella was the right sous-chef for me, and that expanding to baking was a good idea, even though baking scared me more than conjoined clown spider twins who sing a Cappella pop songs.  “You will most likely fail at this,” Ella assured me, ever so tactfully, “so you should start with soft pretzels, because I know you love them, and I happen to want one in twelve hours, which is when you will finally finish a batch.”  And you know what?  I FUCKING DID.  Then it was on to French bread, which I mastered as much as anyone can master French bread.  Then sourdough.  Then yeast rolls.  Then more pretzels – this time filled with cheese, because that sounded fucking awesome, and Ella demanded them.

Eventually, our little kitchen found its footing, and Ella and I were busy toiling away the days sauteing, braising, baking, and frying, and living a nice little life.  She had seemingly given up on yelling at me – though the threat was ever-present whenever fresh food was not immediate – and she had even taken to not digging her claws into my arms anymore.  During the halcyon days – which became eventually, and thankfully, years – we hung out out, she and I, in the kitchen, and came up with a damn good recipe for moules frites; a great plan for an Italian meal; a nice recipe for a basic risotto; and even managed a take-down of those fucking hacks, Guy Ferry and Sandra Lee (though the better nature of Ella’s angels were imparted unto me, because I really wanted to let them have it).  After several years, we were a success!  Our little kitchen was the best little place for good food and drink in the town, and even though we never had any customers, or a restaurant, we were happy.  And if happiness is measured in pleasure taken while sitting in the sun as it sets on the California coast, smelling dinner being made, then we were, indeed, the happiest people that the sun had the luxury of setting on.

In the interest of warning those who were traumatised by "Marley & Me," here's Roberto Benigni to remind you that, while life may be beautiful, it really, really, really, sucks some times, so you may want to stop reading right now.

The last meal Ella “Chairman Meow” Who Dey and I cooked together was patatas bravas.  She sat dutifully by, in her elegant stance, knowing all the while that I was putting way too much paprika in the sauce.   That she didn’t yell at me should have been my first clue.  Not much more than a week later, in a far less comforting environ as our kitchen, I was holding my little Sous-Chef on her favorite blanket, on a metal table, in a strange room, waiting for the veterinarian to come.  Ella had gone into kidney failure, a pros-pos of absolutely nothing except cruelty and pain and unfairness, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  Had I my wits about me, I would have played for her Beethoven’s “Emperor’s Concerto,” because that’s the song I hope to hear when I, myself, have to cross the bar.  I don’t know if that’s the song Ella would like to have heard, but I do know that the last sound she did hear, as the doctor administered the drug to stop her heart, was my voice.

Sous-Chef Ella sez: "I'm pretty comfy, now. I was a tough-ass cat, but I loved freely. That's pretty much all any of us can ask for, really. I'm going to sleep, now."

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Ravioli, For Jamie

25 June 2011

Stereotypical Italian guy sez: "If you-a like, I can-a show you my penis."

There are few things in life more pleasurable than ravioli.  Amongst those are Jeff Buckley songs, Richard Pryor’s comedy, and, of course, your mother.  My love of food came not from my Ma’s breadcrumb-encrusted chicken, nor from my father’s insistence that I “eat those fucking green beans, or else I’ll make sure that the right son drowns in that river,” but rather from a dish I had while on trip through Italy, when I was seventeen.  There was a law, at the time, which dictated that all buses – one of which I was a passenger of – had to stop every four hours, so that the bus driver could take a break to do mafia stuff and make kissing sounds at pretty girls who happened to pass by.  Luckily for me, this particular tight pants-wearing, chain-smoking, swarthy bus driver chose to take his break at a truck stop which happened to randomly have a cottage next to it.  And this cottage randomly happened to have an old woman assigned to it.  And this old woman randomly happened to know how to make the best spaghetti I’ve ever had.  That has nothing to do with this post, of course, but it is a pretty good story.  Even better when you’ve had a  bottle-and-a-half of scotch, like me.  Stories are fun!

Anyway, as good as that spaghetti was, I need to talk about ravioli.  More to the point, about the best ravioli there ever was.  Picture, if you will, the three best things of all time.  If you pictured brie cheese, pasta, and pancetta, you’d be wrong.  The correct answer is Anne Hathaway, Sinatra, and my abs. You may have a point with brie, pancetta, and pasta, though, so let’s make some fucking ravioli, yes?

Anne Hathaway: so much better than ravioli.

Trade Money For These

Brie Cheese

Semolina Flour

Pancetta

Eggs

Water

Confidence

Combine, Thusly:

So, I’ve got bad news for you.  You’re gonna make a fucking mess out of your kitchen, and probably punch several holes in your walls, and not just because your girlfriend just cheated on you, with me, while I was making the very same pasta recipe that you’re reading about, right now.  Some people make their pasta dough in a stand mixer, but those people also like Kathy Griffin, so fuck them – we’re doing this shit like your 8th grade girlfriend: by hand.  Pile up some flour like you were Tony Montana, and make a well in there.  Into your flavor caldera put in three eggs.  Mix together the eggs and flour until it makes a “cohesive mass,” which is a term I just learned, and will now be the name of my new band.  Kneed the cohesive mass for a while, wrap in plastic, and let it rest for thirty minutes.  In the mean-time, crisp up some pancetta that you overpaid for at Whole Foods.

Punk band sez: "Thank you, Cleveland - We are . . . COHESIVE MASS!!!!! OUR FATHERS THOUGHT OUR FUTURES WOULD BE BETTER SERVED BY CONTINUING OUR PIANO LESSONS!!!!"

Take the dough out of your specially-made pasta rester, and roll it out.  It’s going to take some doing, but carpal tunnel syndrome is worth it for a good dinner.  You don’t have a pasta cutter, so just use a knife to – wait, you have a specially-made pasta rester, but you don’t have a pasta cutter?  That’s a little ridiculous, bro – cut the now 1/8 inch-thick dough into squares.  Onto each square pile a slice of brie and a pinch of Eye-Tie bacon.  Cover the squares to make a little pillow of deliciousness, and throw ’em into some water I forgot to tell you have boiling.  What of the sauce, you ask?  Well, you inquisitive reader, you; I like a brown butter sauce.  To make, you just, you know, brown some fucking butter.  You’re welcome.

The revolution will not be televised. It will, however, be served with lots of butter (Hi, pops!).

Cooking in the name of.  I talk enough shit about Food Network, so it’s time to put up or shut up.  I joke around a lot, but there are certain things you should know about cooking.  And if the network seemingly devoted to the culinary arts ain’t going to do it, I will.  What I hope to impart in these posts is a mini compendium of stalwart recipes which you can expand upon and make your own.  Consider this the (semi) serious part of The Chef’s Prerogative.

Here’s what you should know about this post: (1) I’m fantastically drunk; (2) cooking is fantastically easy; (3) I really like the the adverb “fantastically;” and (4) I’m not altogether clear about what an “adverb” is.  That having been said (or written, as it were), cooking is, as previously mentioned, easy.  Not only easy, but wonderful.  If you’ll permit me a bit of sentiment, I feel it’s my duty to digress.  Cooking for those you love – or, if you’re like me, those you’ve just met at a truck stop, who may or may not be an actual lady – is a pretty special thing.  Moms have done it for their families for ages, albeit with the help of Velveeta, bread crumbs, and Prego.  Guys still drunk from the night before, but who are nonetheless willing to turn on a stove in the interest of morning sex, have done it, albeit with the help of one last gulp of tequila and several eggs of questionable expiration date.  And I’ve even done it, albeit with the help of my ample member and a sensual kiss to the neck.

Cooking for someone special doesn’t entail – as Food Network would lead you to believe – a “Peruvian burger” or “meatloaf with a twist” or “Kwanzaa cake.”  Even if you’re just cooking for yourself, cooking is a special thing.  Cooking is a time when we can be masters.  Cooking is a time when we can can take disparate pieces of nature and turn them into something which, hopefully, pleases without exception.  Cooking is when we can have a three-foot space of fastidiously-controlled mise en place, which we can then utilize to make something that other people think is amazing.  Cooking is when we turn that cramped, little space in our apartment into a concert hall – because, after all, we’ve made someone feel far more than they would have by, say,  listening to Dvorak.  You’re not going to paint a Matisse.  You’re not going  to blow like Miles Davis.  You’re not going to compose a poem like Bukowski.  But, in this life, what you can do; what has been imbued in you by the French masters, by the myriad recipes contained in your grandmother’s cigarette-stained library of culinary anachronism, by your will and whim to make those around you feel good;  what you can do is be a master.  You control how those who eat your food feel.  You can make them happy.  I don’t care if you’re the wife of an over-worked CPA, a husband to a big firm attorney, or a single guy who’s dying to make an impression; when you cook, you are in control. Not only of your ingredients, but of those who will experience what you have created.  That, my handsome friend, is powerful.  You are the chef – the knife; the ingredients;  are yours.  All you need is some passion, some technique, and some tried and true recipes.  I can’t give you the first two, but with this inaugural in-between-post, I can endeavor to start giving you the latter.  And with that, I get back to what this blog was all about: fucking recipes.  Good, simple recipes.  (And truck stop whores.)

So, let’s talk about risotto.

Risotto is three things: (1) short grain rice, (2) stock, and (3) confidence.  The risotto you want depends most on the second of those aforementioned things.  Pick a good stock, be it seafood, beef or vegetable, and then you’re off.  Now for the serious shit:  Heat some oil in pot No. 1.  Put your stock in pot No. 2, on a different burner, and let it simmer.  All the aromatics you need are a smattering of shallots.  Sweat the shallots  in pot No. 1 (keep the heat low – there’s no need to rush.)  When the shallots are done,  dump in your rice, and stir to coat with the oil (maybe one minute.)   Splash with vermouth (or white wine) and let it burn off for about two minutes.  Put in a bit of stock, and stir.  Stir until the stock gets soaked up, then put in more stock.  Don’t worry – it won’t take all that long.  Keep doing this until you get the – sorry, my cat is nestling up to me, right now, and she’s just so cute – consistency of the rice you want (you want it to have a little bite.)  This is your basic risotto recipe, and you can add to it as you see fit.  Throw in some veg or parm or bacon or mushrooms, or whatever else is in your chef’s heart.  Risotto couldn’t be more simple, and if you don’t use it to get laid, I will, personally, punch you in the head.

Man, cooking is great.

There's no joke, here; I just like freckles and redheads.

"FREEBIRD!!!!"

Asia has given us many wonderful things: tentacle porn, ninjas, ninja stars, the song “Heat of the Moment,” and gravure models, among the best.  But to my mind, Asia’s greatest export is what I will affectionately and blanketly, in my cultural insensitivity, call “the noodle bowl.”  A huge bowl of broth, meat, toppings, and deliciously alkaline noodles is perhaps my favorite food of the moment.  This will change as soon as I see a picture of a cheeseburger, but right now, I am on a noodle kick.  I’m lucky enough to live in a place with a ton of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants, most of which offer some form of a noodle bowl, as well as a side-order of hilariously-translated menu descriptions*.  Unfortunately, money spent on noodle bowls is money not available for sponsoring my African orphan, Douglas Asenbach TheChefsPrerogative.  As such, I have taken to making heaping bowls of noodles in my home, instead.  I’m still in the “Ah, fuck it – let’s just throw everything in there” stage of this recipe’s development, so feel free to experiment on your own and commit seppuku when it all goes wrong.

I'd watch yourself, kitty. That's all cute and funny, but in this economic climate, you're just an enticement to a cheap meal. See how I avoided the obvious and stereotypical "some Asians eat dogs and cats" joke? That's some good and responsible blog jokin', right there.

Wondrous Ingredients of Luck Terrific!

Noodles
Rice wine vinegar
Mirin
Ginger
Peanut oil
Shallot
Meat
Veggies
Whatever else you got

Making Most Happy Foods Wonderful!

Look, I’m no Asian chef, and, as stated, I’ve only recently begun making these things, so cut me some fucking slack if I’m not using nori or naruto or Hello Kitty, or whatever else makes noodle bowls authentic – feel free to put some of your manga on in the background while making this, if it will make you feel better.  In fact, I bought David Chang’s wonderful book, Momofuku, for the sole purpose of getting better at this whole “Asian cooking thing,” but, after careful study, I have come to the conclusion that that shit is fucking hard!  Seriously, it scares me and makes me want to cry.

Because of the inherent difficulty of making authentic J-cuisine, and the time constraints imposed on me by my almost impossible cosplay schedule, I opt for a simple, yet tasty, noodle bowl, which appeals to both my appetite and inherent affinity for randomly chucking shit in a pot, guided by nothing but a peculiar mix of impulse, intuition, and martinis.  That such a mix was also the impetus for landing me in a Oaxacan jail for the past four months bodes well for the final, inevitably perfect, presentation of this dish.

My cell-mate, Juan, taught me a lot about life, philosophy, and how to stab a guy to death using a shiv fashioned out of an old newspaper and spit.

I generally start out by sauteing finely diced shallots, onions, and assorted veggies in peanut oil.  I then add mirin and rice wine vinegar, because those are Asian.  This is followed by adding shitake mushrooms and a mixture of whatever stock or broth I have in my pantry, as well as soy sauce.  Seriously, whatever you got, throw it in – after all, this is generally where I get all “Dr. Frankenstein” on my ramen.  For whatever reason, I always feel it necessary to let the mixture reduce a lot, then add more stock, then reduce again.  Whenever my impeccable and almost Helios-like culinary intuition kicks in and informs me that the broth is now ready – that any more cooking would ruin it, but any less and it wouldn’t have been complete – I throw in tofu, bok choy, and whatever else I can think of, to finish it off like I was a Korean masseuse at a Japanese massage parlor.  Pour the broth over boiled noodles of your choosing, and top with pork shoulder you’ve conveniently roasted to perfection before-hand.  On the side, I like to have a bowl of julienned  radish and cucumber, some hot sesame oil, and a jar of seasoning I stole from my local Japanese restaurant.

As I’ve been writing this, and simultaneously perusing some ramen-oriented sites on the internet, I have come to the realization that I’m kind of massacring a centuries-old cuisine, and doing to it what Sandra Lee does to all manner of food and table-scapes.  But, listen: if you want a proper bowl of ramen (as well as all manner of other delicious Asian treats), go get you some Momofuku from Barnes & Noble, and follow its great recipe.  It’s a great book – if not exactly user friendly (seriously, I’m a big fan of ramen, but I don’t know if I want to cook a gallon-and-a-half of broth, dude) – and the author uses the word “fuck” a lot.  And, in defense of my horrific and ethnically insensitive “recipe,” this is how Chang describes what he deduced as the ramen recipe of a very popular Tokyo ramen house: (1) Soy sauce placed in bowl, then stock, (2) gigantic helping of noodles, (3) toppings are placed, (4) finished with a touch of stock.  So it seems ramen is not about some specific recipe, but rather about the simplicity and quality of its constituent parts; a quality which, like all seemingly simple things, takes millenia to perfect.  I’m not saying you and I should give up trying for the perfect, authentic noodle bowl, but I am saying that you’re a white guy who drives a Saab, so maybe just be happy with a reasonable facsimile you can make in your house, without a centuries-old recipe and the patience of Confucius.  If, however, you can find a place that serves good pork buns, just give up and go there, instead.

Did you seriously think you were getting out of here without a picture of a Gravure model? I may not know how to cook things of a Japanese nature, but I sure as hell know how to masturbate to them.

_____________
*An actual description from a small noodle joint I recently visited: Kink pork noodle soup to the last drop drink, became one of the ingredients, and balanced a “taste of Santoka” also say one cup.  The image of a sophisticated finish to taste both beautiful slender women.  Koume icon is decorated with chocolate in the middle of the bowl is topped with only noodles shiora.  I like the noodles and beautiful, slender women, but I’m a little disquieted by the thought of that chocolate in my ramen.

The Awful Truth

16 October 2009

The best part is that while your dough is in the oven, you have time to watch an episode of Sex and the City!  I'm a "Samantha!"  Who want's cooooosmoooossss?

The BEST part is that while your dish is in the oven, you have time to watch an episode of Sex and the City! I'm totally a "Samantha!" Who want's cosmoooos?

I have a terrible and earth-shattering confession to make.  Worse than the disclosure that Letterman has been nailing interns (and, fingers crossed, Rupert); worse than when I involuntarily stabbed at the “scan” button on my friend’s radio when a Katy Perry song came on, thus outing me as a fan of her irresistible, pop-laden hooks; worse, even, than when I told an ex-girlfriend that I slept with her mother.  And even worse than when I told that same ex-girlfriend that after I slept with her mother, I murdered her and framed the father for it.  Man, I’m kind of a fucking scumbag.  Perhaps made more so by the fact that I now…  have begun to enjoy . . . baking.  Oh, God, it wasn’t real to me until I wrote it out.  I feel sick.  Fucking baking.  Apparently, I’m a sixty year old woman – and also, somehow, a huge homo.  Great, now I’ve got to start giving blow jobs.  Oh, well, “silver lining,” and all that.  After attempting to make bread, last year, and finding it more difficult that sitting through an episode of Semi-Homemade without cutting myself, I threw my stand mixer at a hobo and retired my AP flower by portioning it in little baggies and selling ersatz eight-balls to unsuspecting middle-schoolers.  I was done, and it felt better than being amorously hugged by Danielle, down there.

25 cents is a damn good price, espescially when you account for inflation.  In my pants (you know, from my boner.)

25 cents is a damn good price for hugs, especially when you account for inflation. In my pants, that is (you know, from my boner.)

I was perfectly content with my pots and pans and direct heat and not having to let my ingredients take four rest periods before cooking them.  I loved the imprecise nature of the measurements, and the accompanying ability to improvise.  And nothing thrilled me more than the omnipresent danger of maybe, just maybe, giving someone the salmonella.  But then, like the beginning of so many a troublesome adventure, I got a hankerin’ for some soft pretzels.  Being of an aggressively lazy nature, I nixed the idea of going to the mall to pick up some Wetzel’s, and that Super Pretzel bullshit they sell in the supermarket is, well, bullshit.  So I went off to the trusty internet to get a recipe, and ten minutes later I was still masturbating to sapphic erotica.  Ten minutes after that, though, I was prepping my mise en place, measuring ingredients, and making my dough.  Half-way through the process, I started to feel something strange and disquieting, though not entirely unpleasant.  It was kind of like having sex with a, shall we delicately say “zaftig,” slut, and realizing “Sure she’s really big, but it’s still sex!”  I actually liked baking.  And, because it was yours truly doing the baking, those pretzels were fucking delicious.  From that day forward I was fiening like a junkie turning tricks in men’s rooms to get my next fix.  Bread, more pretzels, more bread – you name it – as long as it was either bread or pretzels, I was baking that shit.  And now, you’re going to be doing the same thing, you lucky bastard, you – Here are two of my favorite baked goods.

Soft Pretzels

Tattoo Guy knows that if there's one thing that will help you get over the crushing realization that you just ran over a puppy with your Kia, it's fresh-baked pretzels.

Tattoo Guy knows that if there's one thing that will help you get over the crushing realization that you just ran over a litter of puppies with your Kia, it's fresh-baked pretzels.

Why, oh why, do they not have more places to get soft pretzels?  Dominoes has bread bowls with pasta in them; Jack in the Box has nachos made out of tacos, for Christ’s sake; I can get sushi delivered to my house; and we can send guys to the moon; but I’ve gotta schlep my ass to Auntie Anne’s to get a fucking pretzel?  Fuck that noise.  If I’m going to the mall, it’s to pick up some chicks after their AP Chemistry class lets out, which is why I’m not allowed to go to the mall any more.  Fascists.  Oh, well, though, because making soft pretzels actually ain’t that hard, and the results are pretty close to those of the mall variety.  You’ll have to go to 7-11 to get some neon orange cheese sauce, but that’s a small price to pay.

There are a lot of recipes out there for good soft pretzels, and most of them follow the same general outline: bloom yeast in warm water, add salt, brown sugar, flower, and some type of fat, and mix until a smooth dough is formed.  Let rise for an hour, make pretzel shapes, boil briefly in water with baking soda, then bake.  As for the type of fat to use, I generally use an ass-load of melted butter, but that’s just because I’m awesome; you can also use eggs or milk (you know, if you’re all out of butter and all the grocery stores in your town are closed so you can’t buy more butter.)

Buttermilk Biscuits

I'm sure that by "Orange Juice" they meant "Giant Pitcher of Martinis," and by "Biscuits" they meant "Tons and Tons of Bacon."

I'm sure that by "Orange Juice" they meant "Giant Pitcher of Martinis," and by "Biscuits" they meant "Tons and Tons of Bacon."

As a kid, I was never really into biscuits (in large part because they weren’t Nintendo or BMX bikes or my dad’s old Playboys.)  It wasn’t until I started cooking, myself, that I realized that I hadn’t been a big fan of the biscuit because I had never really had good biscuits.  It’s no wonder, either, considering how difficult it is to make them so they turn out moist, tender, and flaky.  But fear not, you beautiful, vile sluts, because I’m here to help (along with a recipe I stole from Alton Brown.)  Two keys to keep in mind when making the dough – keep the fats very cold and, as France has taught us, over-working is never a good thing.  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Into the dry ingredients, massage in shortening and butter until it looks kind of like crumbs, then pour in the buttermilk and mix until it just comes together.  Fold it a couple of times and pat out into a sheet about an inch thick, and cut into rounds.  Throw them bad boys into a 450-degree oven, and then start in on your breakfast.  Speaking of which…

Bonus Recipe!!!  Ham And Eggs With Biscuits and Red-Eye Gravy!!!

Pictured: a visual representation of the awesomeness of Bonus Recipes.

Pictured: a visual representation of the awesomeness of Bonus Recipes.

I couldn’t let you people get out of this post without writing about actual cooking, now could I.  Especially because I only know how to bake two things well, and that doesn’t necessarily make a good, in-depth post.  While your biscuits are in the oven and on their way to drying out because you left them in there too long, throw a ham steak in a large skillet with a little vegetable oil, and cook until brown and a little crispy.  Remove the ham and add a few tablespoons of coffee to the drippings in the pan, along with a touch of sugar, a little water, salt, and a lot of pepper.  Scrape up the ham bits and reduce.  Unlike other gravy, this is going to be very thin, but rest assured that it will pack a delicious punch.  Top the ham with a fried egg, add two buttered biscuits, and top with the gravy.

Now go grab your stand mixer, some flour, some yeast, slip into a sundress, put on some heels, and go bake yourself something!  As long as it’s not cake, because, as we all know, cake is gross.

The Goodfellas cast are watching you masturbate.

The Goodfellas cast is watching you masturbate.

Dinner was always a big thing in the joint.  We had a pasta course and then meat or fish.  Paulie did the prep work.  He was doing a year for contempt and he had a system for doing garlic.  He used a razor and he sliced it so thin it used to liquefy in the pan with a little oil.  Vinnie was in charge of the tomato sauce.  I felt he put in too many onions, but it was a good sauce, anyway.  Johnny Dio did the meat.  He didn’t have a broiler, so we did everything in pans.  He smelled up the joint something awful, and the hacks used to die.  Everybody else in the joint was doing real time, all mixed together, living like pigs.”
-Ray Liotta, as Henry Hill, in Goodfellas

I cut myself slicing the garlic like how the bad man told me to, and now I have a owie.”
The Chef’s Prerogative, after cutting his finger with a razor blade

Perhaps it’s because I’m a de facto Italian, but the cooking of my make-believe homeland has always struck me as being about more than just food.  One can’t overlook the copious amounts of meats, cheeses, and pastas, naturally; but Italian food, to me, seems to be about something more than just what’s on the plate.  I’m not going to wax too rhapsodic about the communal and celebratory nature of Italian feasts, but let’s just say that Italian feasts offer a respite for the soul from the burdensome weight foisted upon it by a cruel and despotic reality, allowing it to blossom into its true and evanescent nature, nurtured by food, family, and friends, and imbuing in its very nature that which heaven and joy have imparted at their union in that most sacred and special of places, through no less than a repast fit for Gods, but befitting of we mere mortals.  Also, it tastes good.

When I have people over for a night of greaseball Italian fun, you can bet your sweet, mocha ass I’m putting out a plate of antipasti, I’m wearing my badass gold chain, and I’m sure as hell not skimping on the Chianti that I make make in my bathtub (it tastes like going blind!).  After the guests arrive, I usher everyone into the kitchen with me, to help out and to help themselves to whatever sous chef Bruno hasn’t eaten off the table.  “But is there Frank Sinatra on, TCP?”  Hooo, boy – not only is there Frank Sinatra on, but as an added attraction, I’m singing along to “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” like I was at the fuckin’ Copa!  Shit, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in my charming little apartment during Eye-tie dinner time, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Bacchanals in ancient Rome (mostly because everyone’s throwing up, afterwards.)  In other words, cooking a big Italian meal for friends and family is, perhaps, the best and most enjoyable use for a kitchen man has yet had the good fortune to devise.   Here’s how you can achieve such a raucous, wondrous night in your own home, right after you buy a fuckin’ cool track suit.

Primo – Antipasti

This guy's anti-pasti.  Get it?  Huh? What? Huh? Fuck you!

This guy's anti pasti. Get it? Huh? What? Huh? Fuck you!

Antipasti (Italian for “you can a-now commence-a the stuffing of-a you face”) is most commonly served as an appetizer platter of meats, olives, marinated vegetables, and Cheeses.  There are really no rules when it comes to preparing your platter, but keep in mind that your wife probably isn’t going to let you get away with describing the three pounds of sausage on your plate as “an appetizer.”  The key to a good antipasti plate, much like making your college seem more inclusive by photo-shopping a black dude and an Asian chick onto the cover of your admissions brochure, is diversity.  By “diversity,” I mean, of course, “an ass-load of prosciutto and half a shit-ton of cheese.”  The simple fact is that prosciutto, in my opinion, goes so far in its succulence as to push in on bacon’s territory (if only slightly) as king of the delicious pork applications.  If I ever learn that kids in Italy get prosciutto and cheese sandwiches packed in their school lunch bags, I’m going to be seriously pissed off.  Although, when I picture an Italian kid at recess, I see him smoking an imported Marlboro Red, drinking a glass of wine, and making kissing noises at the girls, so I guess it kind of fits.  Fits like a glove made out of stereotypes.

Primo – Pasta

The Chinese may have invented pasta, but the Italians were the ones to put pancetta and cheese in it.  Advantage: Italia.  How could you not think of that, China?!?!

The Chinese may have invented pasta, but the Italians were the ones to put pancetta and cheese in it. Advantage: Italia. How could you not think of that, China?!?!

Unlike that pasta bowl you just ordered from Domino’s, the pasta course in a traditional Italian meal probably won’t feature a ton of meat, seafood, or poultry (nor unlimited breadsticks, I’m being told.)  And, while you may view the pasta, itself, as a mere conveyance with which to get that cream sauce from the plate to your glutton-hole, Italians take pride in the intrinsic deliciousness of the noodle.  I try to make my pasta from scratch as often as possible, but with me being lazy and that shit being hard, I’m often wont to opt for the dried stuff, instead.  For the vast majority of home cooks, this is a better option than getting out your stand mixer, coating your entire kitchen with flour, watching the Reds’ season implode, and punching walls and pets when you realize that you did all that work for nothing (it’s kind of a metaphor for life, in that way.)  Because Italian feasts generally equal the caloric intake of an entire African nation – approximately 10,000 calories (sorry, Africa)  – I like to make the pasta course fairly light.  Make a simple sauce of crushed San Marzanos, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper.  And, as always, kids, just put a little sauce in a pan and toss in the pasta with a little of the water.  Serve with bread you painstakingly bought at Ralph’s.

Secondo – Meat or Fish

The Fishes.  Luca Brasi Sleeps With Them.

The Fishes. Luca Brasi Sleeps With Them.

Now that you’ve already eaten a full dinner, it’s time for the main course!  Generally speaking, the main course in an Italian dinner is comprised of cigarettes and tight pants, but for our purposes we’ll focus on the more traditional option of meat or fish (or meat stuffed with fish, if you’re having dinner at John Madden’s house and actually think this joke is funny.)  Sausage, game, poultry, or even more prosciutto is great, and all, but I’m a big fan of roasting a whole fish for this course.  This is mostly due to the fact that it makes me look like an honest-to-goodness chef, but also because I like the idea of serving my guests something that features pin bones (because at least one of them, at some point, will spill wine on my floor, that’s why.)  The great thing about roasting a whole fish is that it’s easy and allows for lots of freedom in terms of seasoning, type of fish, and lying about how you caught the thing yourself.  Take a fish and place it in foil.  Add oil, a drizzle of white wine, salt and pepper, and lemon.  Stuff the cavity with herbs of your choosing, you sick bastard.  Make four slits half-way to the bone, cover with foil, making a large packet, and bake at 450 for 35 to 45 minutes.  Bangzo!  You’ve now got a nice, whole fish that you can serve family style.  And because we’re talking about Italian food, here, you have full license to make some inane and unfunny reference to “sleeping with the fishes,” just like I did up there, because we’re totally the only ones who thought of that.

Dolce – Conclusion

La Dolce Vita

This is Anita Ekberg, from Fellini's La Dolce Vita. She's from Sweden, a place that doesn't have any food, let alone Italian food, but I'm not going to let that insignificant fact preclude her inclusion in this post. I'm nothing if not a champion of diversity. And boobs.

By now you know that I don’t do desserts (unless they’re dressed provocatively and promise to leave afterward), so I’ll just use this section to wrap up the post.  Big, Italian dinners are a great way to get together with friends and family, and have them eat all your food and never thank you for cooking, even though you spent $150 at Whole Foods, and stood in front of the stove all day, which wasn’t all that comfortable, because it was hot last weekend, and I don’t have air conditioning, and, also, I think the cat I adopted is probably crazy and bites me when I try to pet her, which really doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but fuck it, I’m on a roll.

Oh, sure, she looks cute and all in her little basket, but I can assure you that, in reality, she's a hate machine built out of claws and fangs.

Oh, sure, she looks cute and all in her little basket, but I can assure you that, in reality, she's a hate machine built out of claws and fangs.

So, anyway, grab your friends and family, put some gel in that hair, talk with your hands, lose your temper because someone looked at you wrong, and make some Guido magic in your very own home.  And, remember, nothing goes better with Italian food than aggressively oggling pretty girls and telling them “Eh-oh, if you like dat sausage, hon, I got sumthin’ ovah heah you really gonna like,” while grabbing your crotch.  P.S. If that doesn’t get you laid, nothing will.  Mangiare!