I love the internet. (I also loathe and fear it. It’s a complicated relationship.) My modest little blog has started connecting people in unexpected and delicious ways, and I am just tickled pink.
For example, the lovely and talented Daisy stumbled across this blog a while ago, and commented on a recipe I posted. My (also lovely and talented) friend Molly saw Daisy’s comment, and clicked over to her blog. Molly made and loved several of Daisy’s recipes, and now Daisy’s spaghetti squash with sausage and tomatoes has gone into heavy rotation at Molly’s house. And I, the not-so-innocent bystander, sit on the sidelines and clap with glee.
Over the weekend, a big group of friends gathered for an impromptu dinner, and Molly spearheaded the making of a giant batch of squash. Four squashes, to be exact, and three skillets of sausage and tomato, with at least two bottles of wine and a growler of beer to keep us company while the squash roasted. Following Molly’s lead, we tweaked the recipe slightly from the Italian-inspired original, subbing in chorizo for the Italian sausage and adding a fat glug of red wine to the sauce. It made a satisfying mess of the kitchen, as we tried to fork the squash into strands while it was still hot and ended up dropping bits of it all over the stove. (I have the burned fingertips to prove it.)
If you haven’t yet experienced the smell of chorizo, tomatoes, red wine, and garlic cooking in olive oil, I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of smell I would happily wear as perfume, if only I could bottle it. We used Mexican chorizo–the raw, squishy kind–which gave the sauce a sharp sour-chili warmth and a slight bitterness. You could just as easily use the hard-cured Spanish chorizo, which would give a sweeter, smokier flavor and provide more of a chewy texture contrast with the noodly-crisp squash. Either way, the squash will drink up the fatty, winey sauce and become far more delicious than a vegetable has any right to be.
I wasn’t planning on showing you this one.
It started with a Sunday farmer’s market jaunt with some out-of-town friends. Somebody suggested making pesto pasta with sausage and mushrooms for lunch. The best bargain at the mushroom stand that day was oyster mushrooms; the most appealing option at the sausage stand was lamb. So we bought a little of each, brought them back to a kitchen and dumped them in a frying pan. You know, like you do.
I only took one halfway-decent photo. That’s how unremarkable I thought this was going to be. Boy howdy was I wrong.
It’s the Monday after Thanksgiving. Chances are, you’re expecting one of two things from this post: a clever use-up for leftovers, or an antidote to last week’s indulgence.
Sorry. Not today.
Today, I’m all about stuffing vegetables with meat. And when I say vegetables, I mean mushrooms. And when I say meat, I mean sausage.
This meal I’m going to write about was a little rite of passage. It was the first thing I cooked in my new kitchen, in my very own studio apartment.
When I was a little kid, and making my little-kid list of what Being a Grown-Up might possibly mean, high up on the list was having a living space all to myself. From the time I was 3 until the day I left for college, I shared a room with my sister. Never let it be said that I don’t love my sister–if you’re reading this, sistah, I love you–but the everyday grinding closeness, the shattering of any privacy, got under my skin in a big way.
I went to college, and had roommates and dorm-mates. I graduated and moved back home, then found other roommates. But this is the first time, ever in my life, that I have really had a complete living space that was 100 percent my own.
I’m so happy I could cry.
I was a Theater major in college (playwright, not actor, don’t go all diva-shaming on me now). One of the pieces of advice most pressed on us in our lessons on craft was the importance of research. When you’re creating a character, you have to go as deep as possible into every nook and cranny you can find, and pull together all the context and factual evidence and analysis you can muster. You have to create this fully-fleshed conception, right down to tattoos and breakfast cereal and all sorts of pieces that the audience may never hear of.
And then when it’s go time, you throw it all away. You set aside all that exacting work, and leap into the unknown.
It’s not a stretch to say that I live my whole life this way. I’m about the opposite of spontaneous. I’m shy and neurotic, and I overthink everything. I spend days planning what I might say in a phone conversation, and weeks thinking up a single night’s meal. But more often than not, when the time comes for action, I end up ignoring all my well-laid mental plans and making it up as I go along.
Seems to have served me all right so far.
So let’s get this out of the way, right here, right now. This is a post about chili. But not the old-school kind of chili. Not the kind of chili you put on a chili dog. Not the kind of chili that, when I was in college, I used to slop over fries and drench with nacho sauce and call it dinner. (I am shamed.) Oh, no, this is not your generic tomato-red, capsaicin-swimming, orange-grease-slicked Amurrican chili. If I ever enter this chili in a cookoff, they’ll almost certainly ride me out of town on a rail.
There are about a million and one traditional chili recipes out there in the ether, all more or less the same. What I’m after is none of them. I want chili that demands nothing but a bowl and a spoon and a sprinkle of cheese, that fills to the ribs without coalescing into a belly-brick. I want incongruous meats and funky textures, toothsome chunks of vegetation, beans of all different sizes. And I want something so far beyond the pale that it hardly qualifies as chili at all. My signature chili is absolutely killer, but it’s also miles away from tradition. It’s almost–dare I say it–un-American.
So here’s the proof. I’m done. Haul me away and lock me up. I surrender.
One of the reasons I love to cook is that it allows me to indulge my own particular tastes. Like anyone else, I can get finicky, and sometimes the only way to get a really satisfying version of a favorite dish is to conjure it up myself. Case in point: stuffed bell peppers.
Up until recently, I’d never had a stuffed pepper that really hit the mark with me. (Chiles rellenos are a whole other beast; someday I’ll get around to writing about how Mexican food is my high-speed transport to my happy place.) The traditional American stuffed bell pepper usually involves a) ground beef, which I think tastes like cow-flavored gravel, b) instant rice, which creeps the hell out of me, and c) enough tomato sauce to drown a small mammal. And most recipes instruct you to cook the filling entirely in the pepper, so that by the time the meat and the rice are fully cooked, the pepper is soggy and bruised, a shadow of its former crisp self. Not really my idea of a good time.
So I set out to do American tradition one better.