Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cooking for one

The view from my kitchen window, Poladroided

My interest in cooking began when I was a kid, and my aunt bought me this off-the-sales-rack British cookbook called My Cookery Book or something equally anglophilic. There were recipes for marzipan animals, Oscar Wilde-style cucumber tea sandwiches, tandoori chicken, and twice-baked potatoes stuffed with cheese and tuna, which even as a child struck me as sort of off-putting. Yet I developed an fascination with this book, reading it obsessively and planning the day when I could make eggs fried with beans and toast.

Eventually, my dad noticed my interest and began to enlist my help in chopping vegetables, sauteing onions, etc, while he did most of the real cooking. Years later, in college, I began making dishes myself, usually in friends' kitchens - baked ziti, risotto, ropa vieja - recipes that I researched and followed to the T.

So, I was good at prep work and good at following recipes, but I still didn't know how to cook. That is, I didn't know when meat was finished by poking it with a finger, how to patiently caramelize the mirepoix, or how to figure out how much more salt something needed. This came when I graduated from college and graduated onto cooking for myself. 

Some people find cooking for one to be depressing. I guess I can't argue that cooking for one using the microwave isn't sad, because the great thing about cooking for yourself is the flexibility it allows for experimentation and, importantly, failure. Cooking for yourself is when you learn that when a pork chop has that amount of give that it's still raw, or that you have to add the salt slowly and taste along the way, otherwise you end up with a very salty black bean soup indeed. You're not trying to impress anyone - it's just an opportunity to learn. For this reason, I have affection for cooking for myself, and I still get to do it when my fiance is out of town or out with friends.

My favorite thing to cook is spaghetti with fried eggs. It's easy and satisfying, and I love the way the yolk makes a silken sauce over the pasta (another reason to cook for oneself is that you don't have to worry about what your fellow diners like or dislike, or in the case of raw egg yolk - fear). It's also a great way to practice your egg frying and pasta tossing technique. 

Here's how to make it: Boil a large pot of salted water and add a fourth-pound of thin spaghetti. While it cooks, heat up two tablespoons of oil in a small frying pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add a peeled clove of garlic that you have smashed lightly with the side of your knife. When the garlic clove starts to sizzle, or after about a minute, add two cracked eggs to the oil. Allow to fry until browned and crispy at the edges, but still slightly raw in the middle. Dump the entire pan into a large bowl. Add the drained, hot pasta to the bowl and toss, breaking up the fried eggs and coating the pasta in the yolk. Sometimes, I add a little arugula (if I have it) during this step. Grate a lot of cheese (Pecorino or Parmesan) over the top of this, along with cracked black pepper. It shouldn't need salt due to the cheese and salt in the pasta water, but it's always a good idea to check.

Eat while watching terrible television (another perk of eating alone).

Here's a fancier version from Food52, for additional experimentation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Post #1*

I just finished reading an article about the pathogenesis of blockages in the digestive tract, so it seems like a good a time as any to begin this blog. Post #1*, the asterix denoting the fact that this is around the fifth time that I've tried to start a food blog. I love food blogs, for the most part, and I think about food and cooking a lot, and I cook a lot, so it seemed like a natural progression to make a food blog of my own. But I feel uncomfortable writing about myself (a middle child thing?) and I have a high-stress, demanding job (I'm a research scientist), so my prior attempts at blogging were abandoned.

Try, try again. Here, this time, I want to talk about good recipes and cooking, but I also am interested in larger issues related to food (culture, gender issues, history, policy, etc.). I'll try not to be too pretentious or twee (except for the Poladroids, because those make it look like I can actually take an interesting photo), but this is a food blog so there's only so much I can do.

Oh, and the name? It refers to these cheap, plastic handled knives you can buy at outdoor markets in Italy, shrinked-wrapped into packages of eight. They are the knives I grew up using and learning to cook with, and I love them because they are practical, beautiful, and they get the job done.