Cold Noodles

Too tired to cook. Too humid. Too hot.

I’m sorry. It’s been a week–I have been surviving mostly on Frosted Flakes and take out. Went out for a Subway sandwich last night. I brought it home and ate it in my dark bedroom, right now the only livable space in my apartment. I left Chicago in good weather and came back a few days ago to find my place sweltering hot and smelling like ripe, days-old garbage. The air is thick in this city: heavy, wet. When I went to bed it was still too hot and too humid and I dreamt of the dry summer heat of Los Angeles, and of central air.

But last night, patting bits of oxidized lettuce off the floor with a mustardy napkin, I decided I’d had enough of the mopey shit. And like Hemingway after his oysters, I began to feel happy and to make plans.

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Why Eat Meat

My uncle says he never feels full after a meal unless he’s had some meat.

The man loves steak. He lives in China now, Nanjing, and he says the most impressive cut he can find is maybe an inch thick. And that’s if he’s lucky. There’s good food to be had in China, but none of the ostentatious, excessive hunks of meat we have here, fatty and red and well-marbled. Say it with me: I am complicatedly proud to be an American. I am thankful for the Whole Foods down the street.

Thinking of my uncle in China—there with his wealth of handmade noodles and his poverty of steak—doesn’t exactly sink me into a true blue melancholy, but some sadness filters through, maybe sympathy. Steak is complicated. Steak is cruel. But steak is also very good. When I eat meat something inside me quivers and growls, and I can imagine, I am convinced, that the act is necessary for my survival.   Continue reading

Liver, Garlic, Herbs, Onions

I was afraid of this recipe. There’s something about French food that makes lowbrow ingredients seem unreachably high end.

Or maybe just unreachably high end for a cook who loves spreadable offal, but who’s threatened, perhaps to an insane degree, by the word pâté. Just look at the shape of it and I think you will start to know what I mean. If soufflé had as many accents over its vowels I probably would have waited a hell of a lot longer to try to make it. (Crazy, right? I don’t know. Maybe a little. Words say things to me.)

But on the Bang-for-Your-Buck scale and the Couldn’t-Be-Easier-Scale, this recipe ranks high. Like, really high. This isn’t one of those fussy spreads that might be called “mousse” on a menu. It’s not the kind of spread that takes hours of coaxing into a shape, texture, and appearance that is so far removed from its original form that you might be tempted to scratch your head and ask, “So…wait. What is this again?” Continue reading

End of Summer Peking Duck

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I feel like there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the preparation of Peking duck.

At most good Chinese restaurants you have to order it at least a day ahead if there’s any hope of getting it on your table. This has to do with the fact that there is a very narrow bridge of time in which the duck can be enjoyed as intended–that is, with supremely crispy skin and liquid fat.

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So Chinese restaurants aren’t trying to annoy you when they ask exactly what time you will be enjoying your duck, they’re trying to protect your eating experience, which I think is great. No self-respecting Chinese cook would ever leave Peking duck just sitting around. In fact my mother had this spasm of annoyance with me when I interrupted her process to take these pictures. So if the photographs are not up to their usual standard, blame the perfectionism of an exquisite cook. Continue reading

Sticky Rice, Pork Belly, Lotus

zong zi

My favorite food as a kid wasn’t mac and cheese, or pizza, or the Happy Meal.

It had nothing to do with brownies or chocolate cake. It didn’t involve spaghetti. Instead, it was a dish that a quarter of the world is probably very familiar with, just not this corner of the world. That dish is zong zi, these happy little packages. And so prettily wrapped.

The closest thing I could say to describe it is that it’s like a Chinese tamale, but different. For one, the starch component is sticky marinated rice, not masa, and it’s wrapped in lotus leaves, not corn husks.

When my father sampled one from our latest batch, he let out a gutteral, unselfconscious moan I associate with only the best food. “Two thousand years of culture,” he said, “and you get this.” Continue reading

Muffuletta Sandwich, New Orleans “Noir” Truffles

italian-american sandwich

I’ll jump on any excuse to make up a recipe.

So when one of my professors at Northwestern required a “handout” for a presentation I was doing about New Orleans, my mind jumped to the finest of all handouts: free food. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me on this one.

So I did a little research on the culinary traditions of the Big Easy, what I think must be the most singular foodstyle in the country. Gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, etoufee, pralines. Even the names sound foreign. Well, I guess they are. The food of New Orleans is a hectic blend of Spanish, French, Italian, Caribbean and even African influences. But it’s touched just as much by the American South and the history and ingredients the region offers. Continue reading

My Favorite Steak Dinner

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“Steak dinner” doesn’t begin to say enough. There are endless variations on it, each one as classic as the next.

And the steak itself is open to interpretation. Between the cut, the marinade, the cooking method, the sauces and/or crusts, two steaks could become different animals all together. There’s no formula, no universal constant. The measure of a steak dinner comes from the people eating it.

traditional steak dinner

So a match of steak dinners is anyone’s game, but we here at the Spinning Plate thought our favorite steak could stand up to the toughest challenger: my father. Several years ago he and his friend Larry inaugurated Chuck Wagon dinner—a Friday or Saturday night devoted to steak dinners and male bonding. Initially my mother called the ritual Boy’s Date Night, but my father rechristened it Chuck Wagon to reflect the cowboy spirit. Over the years, Chuck Wagon has expanded to welcome countless guests. It now holds a hallowed position in our socializing, serving as a rite of passage for our circle of friends. Continue reading

Listlessness

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Grocery store lists aren’t about helping me remember what I need.

They’re more to remind me what I don’t need—keep me focused, ward off impulse purchases.

So to use a tired cliche, grocery shopping without a list is like eating a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Fortunately, on my last off-the-cuff excursion into Whole Foods, I discovered the shopping riff. You simply choose one ingredient and go from there, sort of like connect-the-dots meal planning. Continue reading