I don’t know exactly when I started cooking. I think maybe it began when I was nineteen. I was working at a fancy deli at the time, in a fancy grocery store in a fancy part of town. My friend Justin (who has since become a head chef at one of the top restaurants in Portland) and I were both in assistant manager positions, which meant we were frequently left alone together. We used this freedom as an opportunity to act like delinquents: drinking on the job, stealing energy drinks, making our friends free food, finding creative ways to fuck with the customers. One of the other things we would do was make food we weren’t supposed to make. I remember making mozzarella caprice with the $50 olive oil and the imported bufala mozzarella, and then selling it for $4.99 a pound. This recipe left an impression on me—the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation, the perfect balance of the flavors.
Grad school was another big time in my cooking life—I would break up assignments, the hours of reading and writing, by making things. It was nice to move my body around, to do something meditative, practical and productive, something that let me shut my brain off for a while. Coffee cake. Cookies. Roasted chicken. My roommates loved me. The problem was, though, that I was very poor. But instead of my budget feeling like something oppressive, it became a kind of game—how little can I spend while still making something delicious? Like the mozzarella caprice, sometimes my favorite recipes were the most simple: soft boiled egg on top of avocado and toast, which, if you get the avocado in season, runs less than a dollar per serving, yet tastes like something luxurious.
I think right now, though, I’m cooking more than I ever have in my life. One of the factors is that I’m currently not working (well, besides the writing), and preparing the meals we eat makes me feel useful. Another is having an audience—both Scott and our roommate Chris (he got divorced right around the time that Scott did, lives with us, and he and Scott make music and movies together) are great to cook for – enthusiastic, unpicky, grateful. So here I present to you, some of our favorite recipes of late.
SPICY ITALIAN SAUSAGE STUFFED PEPPERS
Scott is completely helpless in the kitchen and I thought it would be a good idea to teach him this recipe so there would be at least one thing he could make, so we decided to make a highly educational video. Chris filmed it.
-5 bell peppers (any color)
-1 lb hot Italian sausage
-2 cups fresh cauliflower
-3 cloves garlic
-5 tsp Italian seasoning (I used 3 tsp “Italian Seasoning” and 2 tsp Basil)
-1 8 oz can of tomato paste
-Cooking spray or 1 tbs olive oil
-5 tbs shredded cheese
1. Cut the tops off the peppers and hollow them out. Set aside.
2. Chop up the onion and mince the garlic. Cut the cauliflower into rice-sized pieces (or grate in a food processor). Put this all in a bowl. Add the sausage, spices, and tomato paste.
3. Heat a large pan on medium. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the sausage, vegetables, etc. together well by hand.
4. Grease the pan with the spray or olive oil. Put the mixture in the pan. Cook for around 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the sausage is fully cooked (aka at least 165 degrees).
5. Fill the peppers with the mixture. Put them in a baking dish. If needed, bunch aluminum foil around them to help them stand up straight. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until peppers look soft and are a little bit black on the tops.
6. Take out of the oven. Sprinkle the tops of each stuffed pepper with cheese – I like using a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan, but any kind of shredded cheese will do. Put back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.
7. Eat that shit. Feel free to add hot sauce. I usually serve the peppers with a simple mixed green salad and sweet potato fries.
NOT EXACTLY AUTHENTIC RISOTTO
I made this when my dad and stepmom came to visit. I also made it for Scott’s parents and kids. I guess those are called my in-laws and stepchildren now. It’s a real “crowd-pleaser”!!! IT CAN ALSO BE A MEAL ENTIRELY IN ITSELF, NO NEED FOR SIDES!!!
The first step is to marinate the chicken. I took a picture of the marinated chicken in a bag, but it looked gross so I’m not going to include it. The second step is to dice the shallots and chop the mushrooms, but I forgot to take a pic so here is a photo I found on the internet. The third step is to sauté the shallots and mushrooms for a few minutes until the mushrooms are soft and the shallots are light brown, but I forgot to take a pic of that too so you will just have to imagine what it looks like in your mind. This fourth step is to dump the rice/risotto into the pot and coat it in the butter, but surprise! I forgot to take a pic of that too. I finally got with the program here, though. Here is where I dumped half a cup of wine into the pot.
Add the rest of the liquid a half cup at a time, stirring until it is evaporated. This is what it looks like when you should add more liquid.
Start cooking the chicken when you are down to the last cup and a half of broth.
Stop adding liquid once the quinoa has sprouted and the rice is tender. You probably won’t need all of the broth. Turn the burner on the lowest setting and stir in the cheese.
Once the chicken is done cooking, set it aside to cool for a bit. Cook the vegetables in the chicken juice that is left in the pan. Scott cut this broccoli. He did a pretty good job.
Cut the chicken into strips
Add the chicken and vegetables to the risotto.
Here is a happy family ready to eat. Notice that Iris looks annoyed. Iris is 4 years old, but she acts like the mean girl in high school so anytime she is nice to you, it feels like a small victory. Notice that Scott looks like a diva. Because he is one.
-1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
-2 tbs olive oil
-garlic powder, Italian seasoning, paprika, fresh ground salt and pepper
-1 tbs lemon or lime juice
-2 boxes of Near East brand quinoa and brown rice, any flavor (discard the flavor packet)
-At least 3 tbs butter or olive oil
-1 bulb shallot, or 1 quarter onion and 2 cloves garlic
-1 8 oz container of sliced brown mushrooms
-1 cup cheap white wine
-2-3 cups chicken broth
-1/2 cup shredded parmesan or Italian mix shredded cheese
-1 bunch of asparagus or broccoli
1. Put the chicken breast in a large Ziploc bag or shallow glass pan. Sprinkle liberally with fresh ground salt and pepper, garlic powder, paprika, Italian seasoning. Add olive oil and citrus juice. Massage the marinade into the chicken/shake up the bag really well. Cover (if in a pan), and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1-4 hours.
2. Dice the shallot or garlic/onion. Chop the mushrooms so they are bite sized. Heat a large pot on medium. Add the 3 tbs olive oil or butter (I recommend using butter) until heated/melted. Sauté the shallots until softened. Add the mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms are soft and the shallots are light brown. Add the boxes of quinoa and brown rice mixture and stir to coat in the butter. Add ½ cup of the wine, stirring frequently until evaporated. Repeat with the other ½ cup of wine. Now add the broth a ½ cup at a time, just like you did with the wine.
3. When you have 1.5 cups of broth left, begin to cook the chicken in a large pan on medium heat. Add the residual marinade to the pan. Cover and cook until chicken is at least 165 degrees. Set aside. Cut the asparagus into bite sized pieces.
4. Finish adding the broth until the quinoa has sprouted and the rice is soft. Add the cheese to the risotto and stir well. Add butter/oil, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Sauté the asparagus in the chicken juices until bright green and still crisp. Cut the chicken into strips. Add the asparagus and chicken into the risotto, stir until mixed.
6. Eat. You can serve this by itself in a bowl, or add a simple mixed green salad on the side.
THE “I MISS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN-STYLE MEXICAN FOOD” DINNER
Here are your supplies. Not pictured: Vinegar, dried spices, olive oil, lime juice.
Chop the onion, cilantro, garlic, and jalapeño. Here’s the peppers. I decided to add some habanero into the mix, for fun. If you don’t like spice all that much, cut the jalapeño in half and then de-vein and remove the seeds before dicing. I am very dubious of people who don’t like spicy food, though. People who don’t like spicy food are generally weak of character.
Set aside half the chopped onion, cilantro, jalepeno, and garlic. Mix the remaining chopped vegetables with the lime juice, olive oil, and vinegar. Rub everything into the meat and place in a large glass dish, cover, and refrigerate for 2-6 hours. I used a plastic dish that is too small. Don’t be like me. I think it might be bad to put raw meat in a plastic dish because I think the plastic can absorb bacteria but maybe I am wrong. I guess I just like taking risks.
Chop up the tomatoes. Reserve some of the reserved onions and cilantro and place in a plastic bag to serve with the dinner later. Take the remaining onions, cilantro, peppers, and garlic and add it to the tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and lime juice. Mix it up, and now you magically have salsa fresca. Take half of the salsa fresca and mix it with the avocados. Now you magically have guacamole.
Heat your pan on high. Cook the beef on super hot til it is charred but still a little bit bloody. It will smoke a whole bunch and you will probably need to open a window.
Grease the tortillas on one side and place under the broiler for a few minutes. Serve everything buffet-style with cotija cheese, lime wedges, tortilla chips, and hot sauce.
1.5-2 lbs flank steak (if you can’t find flank steak, use the steak labeled “for fajitas” or “for stir-fry.” If you can’t find this steak or can’t afford it, any thin cut of beef will do).
-3 tbs olive oil
-1 tbs white or apple cider vinegar
-2 small or 1 large jalapenos
-1 bunch cilantro
-5 cloves garlic
-1 tbs olive oil or butter, or cooking spray
-1.5 cups high-quality tomatoes
-4-5 ripe Avocados [How to pick an avocado: They should be Hass, ideally from either California or Mexico, and should give when you squeeze them, yet still be firm and not squishy. It should have no soft spots. The skin should be bumpy and very dark green (almost black). If you can’t find properly ripe avocados, buy the hard, still green avocados and put in a paper bag in a dark place (not the refrigerator) for 1-2 days until ripe.]
-1 bag tortilla chips
-Cotija or feta cheese
-coarse ground salt and pepper
1. Chop the onion, dice the garlic and jalapeño (remove the jalapeño seeds if you’re a big wuss and don’t like spicy stuff), and coarsely chop the cilantro. Put half the onion and jalapeño, 3 cloves of the garlic, and about a handful (loosely packed) of the cilantro into a small bowl. Reserve the remaining chopped vegetables. Add the 3 tbs of olive oil, the vinegar, and the juice of 1 lime. Mix everything together. Put the steak into a shallow glass dish and drizzle the mixture all over. Season with coarse salt and pepper. Rub everything into the beef so it’s evenly coated. Cover the steak directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-6 hours.
2. Soak the remaining onion in water with a little squeeze of lime for 10 minutes (this makes it so the onion flavor isn’t as harsh). Chop the tomatoes, removing the seeds and mushy parts. Add to the bowl. Drain the onions. Take the remaining jalapeño, garlic, ½ of the onion, and another handful of cilantro and put into a large bowl. Squeeze lime onto everything. Add some salt and pepper to taste. You now have salsa fresca. Good job. Take half the salsa fresca and put it in a separate bowl. Peel and pit the avocados and add them to the remaining salsa fresca. Smush it up using a big fork or a potato masher so the ingredients are evenly dispersed but the guacamole is still lumpy. Add more lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. If it isn’t spicy enough, add some chili powder and paprika to the mix.
3. Cook the meat. Ideally you would do this on a barbeque, but usually I do it in a frying pan. You could also use a broiler. Carne asada is flexible! For the frying pan: Heat it on very very high heat. When it’s good and hot, throw the meat on it. (It will smoke a lot. The onions and cilantro will burn. The pan will be a pain in the ass to clean. Don’t worry about this. Open a window and turn on the fan.) Cook the meat for 3-5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the meat and how bloody you want your steak to be. Set the steak aside and let it cool a little bit.
4. Grease one side of the tortillas with the olive oil, butter, or cooking spray. Stick under your broiler for a few minutes (check often to make sure it’s not burning). Meanwhile, cut the steak against the grain into thin strips.
5. Put some of the steak into the warm tortillas. Top each taco with a scoop of guacamole, a scoop of salsa fresca, a few pieces of the remaining onion and cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and the cotija/feta cheese. Serve with chips and guacamole. Pretend you’re in California and not West Virginia.
LAZY PERSON TOMATO SOUP
I don’t even consider this a recipe because it’s too easy but Scott and Chris love it and told me to include it.
Take some tomato soup. Pour it in a small pot. Heat on medium-low.
Whisk in about a half a cup of milk when the soup is warm. If you are making this for fancy people who care, you should use cream and add a tablespoon or two of the warm soup to the cream before pouring the soup/cream mixture into the rest of the soup, so the milk doesn’t curdle in the acidic soup. If you are making this for Chris and Scott, you will just use the 1% milk in your fridge (the lower the fat percentage in the milk, the more likely it is that it will curdle). The soup curdles a tiny bit this way, but it’s okay—it’s still tasty. Just make sure it doesn’t come to a boil and you’ll be fine.
Add a lot of Sriracha. Squeeze it really hard for 2-3 seconds. You want this soup to wake you up when you eat it.
Make the soup pretty by topping it with a little bit of grated parmesan, some cracked pepper, and a bit of snipped basil.
When I am feeling lazy, I will serve the soup with grilled cheese. Tonight, I served it with these sandwiches but open-faced (less carbs), chicken instead of steak, and with pickled jalepenos on top and sriracha added to the aioli. It was delicious. The salad is mixed greens, dressed with a tiny bit of olive oil, lime juice, paprika, and salt and pepper, then mixed with ¼ cup each of corn, black beans, and salsa.
-1 can decent-quality tomato soup
-1/2 c milk
-Grated Parmesan cheese or sour cream
-Fresh basil, parsley, or green onion
-Heat the soup slowly on medium low. Whisk the milk in when the soup is warm but not hot. Dump a bunch of Sriracha into it—I usually squeeze for a full 2-3 seconds. Top with a bit of parmesan cheese or a dollop of sour cream, some cracked pepper, and some fresh green stuff.