Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hey Joy! Whatcha doin?


Eating what?

Anything that's not nailed down.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Comfort Food

I just ate what can only be described as a vat of macaroni and cheese. The best part is that it didn't come in the form of a box or even as take out from a nearby restaurant. No, it was made for me by my own personal chef. Well, he will be employed as my chef once he agrees to the five cents a week stipend and leaving the restaurant that he's currently employed with.

First I suppose I should address why I haven't written since the end of January, just in case you're keeping track. After my soon to be Pulitzer nominated entry about things not really sucking - they did, in fact start to suck. Big time. For one - I haven't eaten out at a restaurant in nearly all this time. I'm not talking about just going to my boring old stand bys I mean - I have not been leaving the house! First I got taken out by the Ebola of colds. Since I'm not allowed to take anything that could be construed as helpful medication I had to sit and suffer for a week and a half with an attractive chapped nose and nothing but Rachel Ray on TV (dude - she's everywhere.)
Then, my great Aunt Joy, for whom I was named died. She was elderly, but still one hell of a lady that had this mischievous glint in her eye. I honestly didn't see that one coming even though all the signs were there (one obvious one being that she was well into her 90's.)
Meanwhile, Matt became crippled. First his leg hurt, then it was hard to lift things at work and suddenly, he's completely immobile with pain. I poked him with a stick and determined it probably wasn't polio, but it took a while for the doctors to diagnose his real problem and then eventually work out how to treat it.
Meanwhile, I'm getting larger and fast losing the ability to dress myself in the morning without floor show inspired gymnastics (you should see the underwear as a ribbon routine set to Celine Dion's "If You Ax Me To" - it's genius, really.) Thankfully, Matt's family and some of our friends took pity on us and brought food. We didn't starve, but charity food and misery usually make kind of sad blog posts. Thankfully, Matt's back has improved and I've been able to crank out a couple of reasonably edible meals from the paltry packed pantry. We're surviving, but we are seriously boring.

That is, until we got our chef. I haven't seen Mark in a couple of months. A father himself, and a full time chef, he's a busy guy. He's recently been hired to run the kitchen at a place in Mankato and is about to leave us for there. I'm so glad I got one more meal out of the guy! If ever you find yourself down there - go to this place. I can't say anything other than Mark has never, ever served me anything, but outstanding food and the wine list is like a reunion of sorts for me. (Marietta Old Vine! BUDDY! How've you been!? It's been like a year since I saw you.) Plus, the place he's going is Italian and Mark knows Italian - his resume includes time in the kitchens of Pazzaluna and La Grolla (plus, some French training as well.)

So, anyway, he and Matt were having a couple of beers yesterday when Mark decided I needed to be fed and fed properly (as did our soon to be child, who we're considering naming after a suggestion of Mark's - but I don't want to get too ahead of myself here.) They swung by the market to pick up just a couple of things, but mostly he was able to whip this together with what I had laying around our house.

First, he prepped:

A pound of shredded white aged and regular cheddar cheese, a shallot, three cloves of garlic and the pickled jalapenos. Budweiser.

Then he browned:

I'd like to add that this was some of the best bacon I've ever had. I bought it on a whim when I'd visited the Golden Fig with my mom on Saturday. I was delirious to be out of the house and hadn't had a decent piece of bacon in weeks. (I was not kidding about how far we had fallen into the Pit of Despair. Me! Pregnant! Without bacon!!) It was from Tim Fisher's farm. If ever you see it, ignore the price tag and just buy it.

Then he made a roux, stirred in about a half gallon of half and half, a can of Bud, diced jalapenos with about half the jar's pickling liquid and a generous portion of love.

Meanwhile, he'd heavily salted some water and boiled some shells. He pulled them out and told me, without a little bit of scorn, about how you should never - ever rinse your pasta in cold water to stop the cooking process. You lose all the starch. Instead, he tossed it with olive oil, spread them out on a cookie sheet and chilled them in the fridge.

While the sauce thickened we watched a little video he'd brought of his daughter Lola. She.is.so.CUTE. My God, she's a little vision. My favorite parts were when her little 13 month old mouth worked out, "Daa DEE?" and when she punched him in the nads causing him to double over - the camera work is genius.
Anyway, enough fun - I sent him back to the dungeon - I mean kitchen.

He dumped in the cheese and stirred until extra creamy and crazy tasty. He asked me if I thought it needed more salt - clever chef appeals to my inflated ego. It was perfectly seasoned, but we determined that it could use a little more kick from the spicy peppers.

Meanwhile, he pulled this olive focaccia I had stashed in the freezer out and slathered it with olive oil. He salt and peppered both sides of the bread and pressed in some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. He then grilled the bread to golden perfection. "We'd call this a 'crouton' at the restaurant," he kind of scoffed. "This is my favorite kind of cooking - comfort food - REAL comfort food." Then he launched into a story about his new boss' version of braised lamb shanks. I swooned.

Before I knew it, dinner was served (in an ice cream bowl because Matt and I can't reach to load and unload the dishwasher yet.)

Somewhere between the jalapenos, bacon, gallon of cream and the love, this was the best mac and cheese I've ever had. Things seem to finally be looking up.