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What We Eat When We Eat Alone Part 12

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2 TEASPOONS WHITE WINE VINEGAR.

SALT AND PEPPER.

1 SMALL SHALLOT OR 2 SCALLIONS, THE WHITE PARTS, FINELY DICED.

4 TEASPOONS WALNUT OIL OR EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL.

A LARGE HANDFUL OF ARUGULA, MIXED GREENS, OR THE HEARTS OF b.u.t.tER LETTUCE.



1 SMALL AVOCADO.

1. Toast the walnuts in a toaster oven until they begin to smell good, 5 to 7 minutes, then remove.

2. Using a sharp knife, cut a slice off the top and bottom of the grapefruit. Stand the grapefruit on a cutting board and slice away the peel, following the contours of the fruit and removing all the white membrane as well. Holding the fruit in one hand over a bowl, cut along both sides of each segment to free them. Let them fall into the bowl, along with the juice.

3. Combine 2 teaspoons of the grapefruit juice, vinegar, 2 pinches of salt, and shallot in a small bowl. Let stand while you prepare the greens, then whisk in the walnut oil with a fork.

4. Wash and dry the greens. Gently tear b.u.t.ter lettuce leaves into large pieces, if using, or leave them whole. Toss the greens with the dressing, then arrange them on your dinner plate. Halve, pit, and peel the avocado, then slice and tuck the pieces among the leaves so that they intermingle with the grapefruit sections. Finally add the walnuts and some freshly ground pepper. (Be sure to drink the rest of the grapefruit juice.) A Simple Tomato Sauce for Spaghetti and More This basic tomato sauce is our answer to the bottled stuff, which never fails to disappoint. You can make a few cups with ease and use it with spaghetti, polenta, meatb.a.l.l.s, on pizza, over an English m.u.f.fin, and in countless other ways. Since worthy fresh tomatoes are expensive and of short seasonal duration, I suggest using canned. One 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in sauce makes a deep red sauce, enough for 1 to 112 pounds of pasta.

2 TO 4 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL, OR OLIVE OIL AND b.u.t.tER MIXED.

1 SMALL ONION, FINELY DICED.

1 (28-OUNCE) CAN CRUSHED TOMATOES IN SAUCE.

1 GARLIC CLOVE, CRUSHED.

SALT AND PEPPER.

Heat the oil in a skillet-one with high, sloping sides is ideal-over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook slowly for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until it is soft and nicely browned. Add the tomatoes, with their sauce, and the garlic, season with 12 teaspoon salt, and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes. Taste for salt and season with freshly ground pepper.

Variations There are many ingredients you can use to influence a tomato sauce, such as dried mushrooms, finely diced carrots and celery, and herbs. For example, add one of the following to the onions as they cook: 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary 3 teaspoons fresh marjoram or oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried A handful of fresh basil leaves, rinsed, then torn or chopped Spaghetti for a Crowd If you have some fresh basil, tear a few leaves over the top. This is a very straightforward plate of noodles.

TOMATO SAUCE.

SALT AND PEPPER.

1 TO 1-12 POUNDS SPAGHETTI ADDITIONAL OLIVE OIL OR b.u.t.tER, TO TASTE.

PARMESAN OR OTHER HARD CHEESE, FOR GRATING.

1. Make the tomato sauce first. This can be done well in advance.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti. Add several teaspoons salt, then the pasta. Boil until it is al dente-the package will suggest how long, but be sure to taste because at high alt.i.tudes it will take longer. Drain, but don't rinse the pasta. Put it right into a big, warm bowl. Toss it with a few tablespoons olive oil or b.u.t.ter, then with the sauce. Taste for salt, season with pepper, and grate cheese over all.

Spaghetti for One Cook as much pasta as you think you'll eat. Four ounces will feed a hungry fellow. Two or three ounces are adequate for most others. Boil and drain, then toss with sauce to your taste, 12 cup or more.

Brooke's Chicken Fajitas with Black Beans This is for one hearty solitary eater, but Brooke Willeford claims you can expand it indefinitely. Chicken tenders work perfectly for this dish. Otherwise, get a small chicken breast and slice it into strips. If you want the kind of fajitas you get in a restaurant, add a sliced bell pepper to the onion. There will be extra beans, but you can eat them a second time in a bean burrito or turn them into a black bean soup.

1 CHICKEN BREAST, SLICED INTO 12-INCH STRIPS, OR CHICKEN TENDERS, ABOUT 5 OUNCES 2 TABLESPOONS FRESH LIME JUICE.

1 TABLESPOON OLIVE OIL.

14 TEASPOON DRIED OREGANO SALT AND PEPPER.

1 (15-OUNCE) CAN OF BLACK BEANS, PREFERABLY ORGANIC, DRAINED, AND RINSED.

1 JALAPEnO PEPPER, SEEDED AND DICED.

3 TABLESPOONS CHOPPED CILANTRO.

SMOKED HOT PAPRIKA OR PUReED CHIPOTLE CHILES.

12 ONION, SLICED INTO 12-INCH ROUNDS 2 WHEAT TORTILLAS.

CONDIMENTS: SALSA, SOUR CREAM, ROASTED GREEN CHILES, GRATED CHEDDAR OR JACK CHEESE, SLICED OLIVES, SHREDDED ROMAINE LETTUCE.

1. Put the chicken in a shallow bowl and toss with the lime juice, oil, the oregano rubbed between your fingers, 14 teaspoon salt, and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Set it aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes, or longer, in the refrigerator. (Left overnight, it will turn a little too soft due to the tenderizing effect of the lime juice.) 2. Meanwhile, heat the beans with the jalapeno and cilantro. Add water to loosen the mixture and season it with salt and smoked paprika or pureed chipotle chiles, to taste.

3. Heat a cast-iron skillet and, when it's good and hot, add the onion and a smidgen of oil. Cook over high heat, turning frequently until wilted and seared, about 5 minutes, then add the chicken along with the juices in the bowl. Cook, turning frequently until the chicken is nicely colored and done inside, about 10 minutes in all. (Cut a piece open to make sure it's not pink.) 4. Heat the tortillas in a dry, hot skillet, then lay them on a plate; add the chicken and onions along with whatever condiments you desire. The beans can go on the tortilla or alongside. Brooke's advice is to put grated cheese between the warm tortilla and the chicken and/or beans so that it melts.

Turning Leftover Beans into a Soup The black beans from the fajitas will be full of flavor, so all you need to do is to heat them with enough liquid-water or chicken stock-to get the right consistency. Puree some or all of the beans to give the soup body and serve it with a spoonful of sour cream and some freshly chopped cilantro on top. Grate a little cheese over it and warm a tortilla to go alongside.

Spinach and Caramelized Onion Frittata with Goat Cheese and a Vinegar Glaze Cooking vinegar with b.u.t.ter over a high heat for a few seconds makes a piquant sauce that sharpens all the elements in Garrett's big-flavored frittata. It will serve two light eaters or provide dinner and lunch for one. During the 15 minutes it takes for the onions to caramelize, you can wash the spinach, crack the eggs, and even make yourself a salad.

5 TEASPOONS b.u.t.tER, IN ALL.

1 LARGE ONION, THINLY SLICED.

SALT AND PEPPER.

12 BUNCH SPINACH LEAVES, STEMS LOBBED OFF, LEAVES WASHED 3 OR 4 LARGE EGGS.

2 TO 3 TABLESPOONS FRESH GOAT CHEESE.

A GENEROUS SPLASH OF BALSAMIC VINEGAR, OR A BIT MORE THAN A TABLESPOON.

1. Melt half the b.u.t.ter in an 8-inch skillet. Once it foams, add the onion and start it cooking over medium-high heat for the first 5 minutes, flipping or stirring often so that it colors but doesn't burn. Turn the heat down to low and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes. Add a few pinches of salt, a tablespoon of water, and cover the pan. Cook until the onions are limp and golden and smell irresistible, about 5 minutes longer.

2. While the onion is cooking, wash the spinach leaves, but don't dry them. Once the onions are done, add the spinach to the pan. Raise the heat and cook a few minutes until wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and season with a few pinches salt and freshly ground pepper.

3. Beat the eggs with a tablespoon of water, 14 teaspoon salt, and plenty of freshly ground pepper, then stir in the vegetables and goat cheese. Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and add 2 teaspoons b.u.t.ter. When it foams, pour the egg mixture into the pan and give the pan a scoot to make sure things are more or less evenly distributed. Turn down the heat and shake the pan again to make sure nothing is sticking. Cook until the bottom and most of the top is set. Slide a rubber spatula around and under the frittata and ease it onto a plate. Place the frying pan over the uncooked side, grab the plate and pan and flip the whole thing over. Cook for one minute to set the second side, then slide onto a plate.

4. Return the pan to the stove and turn the heat to high. Add the last bit of b.u.t.ter, let it melt, then add the vinegar. Stand back-the fumes will be strong! Let the vinegar and b.u.t.ter sizzle together while you let it flow this way and that over the surface of the pan. After about 45 seconds, pour it over the frittata. Enjoy it hot from the pan, or tepid.

Meals with a Motive.

"Men, do yourself a favor and have more than one menu that you can execute, and let the seduction phase include more than a steak dinner and a bagel for breakfast."

Peggy Knickerbocker, writer.

While we may eat alone and even enjoy it, there are times when we don't want to sleep alone and times when we have someone in mind to sleep with. That's when there's a motive to the menu, and what's amazing is that suddenly those who have been otherwise happy eating cottage cheese have a pretty good idea of what makes a better menu for seduction-and even how to cook it.

Peggy Knickerbocker observes that most men have two dishes-one to get her in the sack and one for the next morning.

"And that may be all the repertoire he thinks he needs," she says, "but I can give the man a hint or two: Women are very impressed when a man can cook, and especially when he can cook well. For one, it shows a desirable trait for domesticity. And a man looks attractive moving confidently around his kitchen. So, men, do yourselves a favor and have more than one menu that you can execute, and let the seduction phase include more than a steak dinner and a bagel for breakfast. There can be many menus. For the same woman."

Men do look great moving around the kitchen with purpose and a measure of skill, and we are impressed when a man can-and does-cook. It shows there's another side to him, one you haven't met yet. Plus, real cooking, as distinct from opening something and shoving it in a microwave, is an activity that involves all the senses for the purpose of delighting all the senses, and what could be better than that?

"You have to finish with a piece of meat, preferably something you pick up and lick," says the male author of this menu. "But you have to have some foreplay, too. Risotto for a first course-you have to have courses. You can make risotto with whatever you have. I like b.u.t.ternut squash."

So far, so good. Courses are important. You don't want to rush things, and producing a series of dishes says that here's a man who's mature enough to go slowly. "And," our seducer adds, "risotto alone is a slow dish that takes lots of stirring and gives time for sipping and antic.i.p.ation."

"So, here we go," he continues. "She's here. It's nice to start with a cold gla.s.s of Prosecco-it makes her feel like you're a pro-or Spanish cava. Or we might have sherry with toasted almonds while waiting for the risotto." There's nothing quite as compelling as the aroma of toasting almonds, or any nut, for that matter.

"But back to the risotto, put some oil and b.u.t.ter in a pot and add chopped onion. The rice goes in. White wine. Sage from the garden and the squash. Stirring is a shared experience.

"After the first course, grill the chop and from now on, it's no utensils. Eat the chop and a salad with your hands. Finish with fresh figs. Crack open some walnuts. Aged Gruyere, perhaps a pear."

I'm impressed! Fresh figs? Walnuts in their sh.e.l.ls? (He must be from Northern California.) A pear? A silky French b.u.t.ter pear perhaps to set off the embedded crystal nubbins of goodness in the cheese. Fingers move carefully as they pick out the pale walnut meats lodged in jagged sh.e.l.ls. Teeth sink into the seeded flesh of the fig. Tongues lick the juice from the pear as it wanders over fingers. This is a very s.e.xy meal.

"But if you want to have s.e.x, you don't want to eat too much," cautions the practical Peggy. "One time I had a boyfriend and I didn't know if we would have s.e.x in the afternoon or at night, so I made a panzanella, a bread salad with tomatoes. It's good early or late; to bring to bed or to keep you going."

Another woman made papa al pomodoro, a bread and tomato soup, thinking that all foods from Italy were bound to be romantic. But her boyfriend, who later became her husband, always referred to her seduction dish as "that bowl of wet bread you made for me." At least it's a family story, and clearly there was more going for this relationship than the success of a dish. Fortunately, that's often the case. Indeed, one of the first foods Patrick and I shared was a Thai coconut soup with the pieces of galangal left in, which caused it to be referred to ever after as "that wood soup we had when we first met." It didn't prove to be a hindrance to our friendship, though.

It's important to think things through, including what to drink.

"Wine helps a lot," says a man. "A nice bottle, just the age it should be. A good pinot-women respond to that. Depends on the person though. Some girls don't distinguish wines one way or the other. Oysters. Steak. Champagne can't hurt."

"The person I'm seducing is strongly affected by ale, so that's not a good idea," another bachelor tells Patrick.

"I want her to be uninhibited but not legless. Big California wines frighten me. A French country wine with a certain amount of warmth is better. One from Provence. With dessert there will be more wine-I'm doing the left side of the menu first and of course thinking ahead a bit to the culmination," he says. "We don't want a sugary dessert wine, but perhaps a Hungarian sweet wine. A half-bottle. It's got a sweet edge, but it's been aged. There's a tradition behind it."

Tradition can be very seductive. I was a faithful Veuve Cliquot drinker for years simply because a wine rep had come to the restaurant where I was pastry chef and told us, with an effective amount of emotion, the story of the brave, young Madame Cliquot. Once I heard her story, I wanted to be a part of her lineage and the way to do that was simple: always drink Veuve Cliquot.

Patrick quickly learned of the power it had for me. "I don't have to know how to p.r.o.nounce it," he says, "I just get the one with the orange label."

"We don't want a heavy meal; we want to have our wits about us," says another. "A nice garlic bread is going to be in there and something a little fishy to start the taste buds. Rollmops, young pickled herring in the sweet pickle tradition of Norway. Not too salty; lovely flavor. The person I have in mind has a sweet tooth. We come to the main course, something meaty, say beefsteak. Filet. It's no good throwing it on the grill. Young ladies can be delicate. The marinade is important-an herby, oily marinade with some black pepper-the aromas are thought to be an aphrodisiac. For a New Ager, incense, but we won't go into that."

Curiously, not one person proposed chicken or lamb for a seduction meal. Perhaps people feel that chicken is too common and too bland, which a good chicken isn't (chicken broth is another matter), and that lamb is too robust, bordering on being gamey. Fish, on the other hand, is delicate, while beef suggests l.u.s.t. Sh.e.l.lfish is somehow both delicate and l.u.s.tful. It might have to do with its slippery texture, but perhaps it has to do with the primordial briny taste of the sea. How often people have spoken of being invigorated by the bracing coolness and damp sea scents of salt air. It's powerful stuff, indeed. Whether foods actually possess inherent aphrodisiac properties is debatable, but if they seem to, then, like a placebo, they do. Of course, their power to excite has to begin with something as basic as a person's likes and dislikes. I can't imagine being charmed by a piece of rare beef, but a perfect white peach or briny little oyster would have plenty of allure. It's quite a personal matter.

"I don't understand why some people think things like oysters and roll mops and other forms of cold fish are seductive," cries Patrick, who finds such edibles profoundly off-putting. He would not have related well to Jamie's seduction menu, which is as follows.

"I would have to say oysters, followed by crab, followed by sushi," she says, "maybe with honey panna cotta for dessert, to keep up our strength."

"I would never suggest sushi," declares another woman, "because your mouth is full the whole time. That could be sort of awkward. Sushi is better for a third date."

But that awkwardness could be part of the charm. You'd have to end up laughing at your bulging cheeks and a too-large dab of wasabi tweaking your nostrils while effectively destroying the subtle work of the sushi chef. But why be in a restaurant for a seduction meal?

Here's a menu from a single man we met in Greece, on a tour of Chios, where we went to learn about mastic, an aromatic, resinous substance that issues from cuts in a tree related to the pistachio. "Oysters to start. Fresh fruit wine from Limnos. An average-sized meal." Then he goes on to include veal, with dried peaches in winter, or duck with orange. And mastic ice cream with a jam of pistachio or rose flowers for dessert. "Finish with a liquor for the seduction," he concludes, "and tell me if it works."

The mastic makes an alluring stretchy sort of ice cream with a hint of pine. We don't really have an equivalent food in the United States that I can think of. Marshmallows maybe, but even they don't come close. For some, the mastic ice cream might bypa.s.s the oysters altogether, especially with the addition of rose petals.

Another traveler looks to the oyster for a promising beginning of a far more modest meal. "Start with grilled oysters wrapped in pancetta with a balsamic vinegar sauce," he suggests, "then have angel-hair pasta aglio-olio, with long-cooked rapini. Serve up a platter of lemon-seared sea scallops. And after that, a warm custard for dessert with shortbread."

The warm custard makes a brilliant finish for this menu. Soft, silky eggs and cream, such primitive stuff to fall into. The land equivalent of sh.e.l.lfish. The shortbread offers just enough crunch to keep things lively, but the pieces need to be tiny, our friend advises, or they'll be too filling. Besides, any leftovers will be great for breakfast the next morning, along with the custard.

Egg dishes, especially custards and souffles, do strike a primal note and they come up often. When I took my twenty-year-old niece, Lindsay, to dinner at Chez Panisse, we were invited to eat in the kitchen, which gave us a chance to chat with the cooks and waiters as we ate and they worked. During the lull between seatings, Phillip Dedlow, one of the cooks, said to Lindsay out of the blue, "Every girl needs to learn how to cook, swim, and shoot. If there's someone in your life you wish to entice, you might want to make a souffle."

She arched an eyebrow and I recalled that no one gave me any such advice when I was twenty. (Lucky girl!) At that moment, Phillip was in fact whipping up egg whites for a leek-and-spinach-pudding souffle that would be served surrounded with sauteed chanterelles and their honey--colored juices. We had eaten this dish an hour earlier and I had quietly nominated it as a seductive one. The eggy tenderness and the fragrant, woodsy mushrooms suggested a blend of comfort that inspired trust, and mystery, which promised adventure.

"So what would your menu be if you wanted to seduce someone?" I asked, hoping that I wasn't violating any unspoken rules.

He considered his options as he folded the beaten whites into the souffle base, then said, "Oysters. Olympias. They're rare. In fact, the best thing about them is that she knows you had to look hard to find them. You can't just go get them at the store. Then," he continued as he ladled the batter into ramekins while musing about what might follow the little Olympias, "I think a simple, beautiful broth, maybe a chicken broth, because broths are soothing. They're hot and warming, but also light. I might have some pasta in it, some fresh noodles infused with saffron and sauteed woodsy mushrooms, porcini or chanterelles. Then a little hanger steak, plus beef heart, slivered and skewered, a salsa verde spooned over it."

Another long pause ensues. "On the second thought," Phillip says, quickly reversing directions, "Let's skip the main course. I'd have pears. Pears are an investment in the future. They take years to mature, so there's the idea there of commitment and time."

It's increasingly clear that Phillip will have to aim his menu at another cook, or the kind of person who knows about growing pears and sourcing the elusive Olympia oyster, who sees the virtue in a well-made broth. No one else had brought up rarity and provenance as part of their seduction menu, but there are women I'm confident this would work for.

"What about chocolate," Lindsay pipes up? She's already asked about chocolate a few times, but Phillip has avoided answering her. Again he ignores her question. The dessert he's dreaming of consists of those pears, or raspberries and figs, with a creme fraiche or honey sorbet.

"But the next best thing," he says, finally turning to Lindsay, "would be a gelato by the Trevi fountain and a little piece of 70 percent chocolate."

I mention that there are no vegetables in this meal, taking, for once, a more sensible tack.

"Well, you can have vegetables in the morning," Lindsay says, "if it matters."

"Chocolate, yes, but the chocolate mustn't be too big," says a man who clearly had chocolate in mind. That, and wine. "A brownie would be too much. More like a mousse, a creamy mousse from a shop. And for wine, the creamiest of cream Sherries with a chocolately color with strength and subtly. A half-bottle. Or a full bottle, leaving half for seducing someone else the next week."

What about side dishes? Everyone mentions oysters and steak, but there are seldom sides, I've noticed.

"There will be sides," an English bachelor declares. "Game chips, which is a potato halfway between a chip (as in fish & chips) and French fries. Just a few of them. The person I'm seducing is a healthy eater, but she wouldn't make steak and chips for herself, so some vegetable has to be in there. It might be a little salad. Watercress. It doesn't interest me, but it has to be there. This makes her feel that I'm not absolutely wicked. And watercress is a little bit tingly and spicy."

Women think about seduction meals, too, of course. A tiny female friend of ours says that she believes, along with MFK Fisher, that things shouldn't get too heavy.

"Start with some salted, almondy almonds with a light drink, like sherry or champagne. For the first course we'd have ravioletti with finely chopped greens. I use Swiss chard and saute it first, and ricotta cheese," she explains. "Make the ravioli no bigger than a quarter. Boil them in lightly salted water and float them in a rich beef or veal stock. Add a little Parmigiano-Reggiano.

"For the second," she continues, "I think scallops sauteed and served in a light wine reduction. I like to serve asparagus cut on the bias. We'd make that together. Maybe have a little bread with the scallops.

"And for dessert," she concludes, "this gorgeous truffled white cheese with bread. Fruit in season-grapes, cherries. We'd feed each other. Beeswax candles lit at the table. I got him!"

Peggy proposes a fish menu, too, but not one that is slithery. Her's has more substance and chew. "I'd do a fish baked with braised fennel, white wine, and olives," she says. "Then I'd give him my roasted tattooed potatoes from my olive oil book. And then I'd give him a wonderful arugula salad with candied walnuts and slivered beets with crumbled blue cheese over the top. I'd give him wine jelly for dessert. Marsala in jelee."

The quivery Marsala in jelee is based on a recipe from Peggy's book, Simple Soirees. Light, cool, and seductive, it also has a bit of buzz to it. It's a perfect dessert.

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What We Eat When We Eat Alone Part 12 summary

You're reading What We Eat When We Eat Alone. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Deborah Madison, Patrick McFarlin. Already has 250 views.

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