Cheap Treats

table.jpgI'm a rabid fan of elegant epicurean eateries and eating en masse with my hedonistic friends. Seen at Spago and Drago in L.A., and most often at Orso in New York, lately, due to the economy, we've gone from a monthly to an every two monthly meet up.

I love these diversions from the routine cuisine ofmy hood. I revel in the whole fine restaurant ritual: of dressing up in a decades old outfit and making it look like fresh kill with a couple baubles; entering, precariously poised on high heeled boots meant for posing, trying not to teeter as I thrust myself past the other tables following the maitre d' to our huge table; sitting and reacquainting with coteries of two, then three, then more friends in their staggered arrivals.  Then I love the gasping over the menu, watching the waiter recite the specials without salivating, negotiating our deals over who will order what meals and how we'll trade off tastings.  

The flatware, the aromas, our blatant voyeurism watching others eat at adjoining tables, and they show off their choices with lip-smacking 'mmm's,' add to the celebration.  In a later lull, I'll cogitate on memorable meals with poignant nostalgia for a special flavor, feeling, time and the fraternity in sharing it, seasoned with the joy of not cooking or cleaning up.

But, fortunately, I also thrill to eating my peasant cuisine concoctions in private rituals in grungy clothes at my house (old robes seem to have profound metaphors attached), especially when a writing chore confines me for an extended period of days.  Here are the comfort foods that make my "staycations" more delectable. 

marshmellow.jpg1. Toasted marshmallows were a seasonal, backyard barbecue treat when I was a kid in Connecticut, cursed with short summers. So in winter, I'd stick one on a fork and roast it over the gas stove flame, generally gucking up the burners pretty badly. "What the hell's the matter with the stove?!" Dad would bellow.  Wiser today, I've learned to spin and move that charred mallow fast into a hot cup of cocoa

2. I love to toss a 1/2 Cup of white corn popping kernels into a small paper bag, fold over the top securely, and microwave for two minutes, watching through the window as the bag swells to nearly splitting.  When I open the hot bag, I've got chemical free, sweet white popcorn in its own container, no muss no fuss.

3. Perhaps it's not esthetically or holistically ideal, but I'm a burned beef seeker. Let's face it. Evenly browned beef is Dullsville.  I like to douse Whole Foods highest quality short ribs in a tangy red pepper/red onion tomato sauce and broil them too close to the flame until the sauce is scorched crusty on the outside, and the meat still has a bit of pink closer to the bone.  Inappropriate as it is to eat such a mess with one's hands in mixed company, on the rug in front of my latest Tivo harvest, tarpaulin over my clothes,  it's my atavistic indulgence.

zankouchicken.jpg4. You might as well microwave a chicken; if you don't crisp the skin it's useless.  I rub minced garlic and half lemons all over the bird, then toss them inside the cavity.  I butter up my roaster stuffer, baste often and bake til it has several crunchy areas of cholesterol laden interest variegating its body.  

If I'm lazy, sometimes I get take out from Zankou – one of the best outlets for finely seasoned fowl in West Los Angeles, always accompanied by their fine aioli sauce. When I lived in Hollywood, I couldn't wait for the rotisserie to stop spinning at Greenblatt's on Sunset on a Saturday night.  There I'd be, lined up with all the other single females for a fix of that deli's perfectly done, hot, roasted chicken.  I'd rush home and make it surrender its warm, moist, sensuous flesh to my mouth.  Either take out or homemade, there few such erotic experiences a woman can enjoy alone on a Saturday night like a hot roasted chicken.

5. And one of my all time favorite midnight snacks begins, as do most great dishes, with minced garlic. Each week I throw a few cloves of garlic into the blender with light olive oil and pulse it, storing it in a jar in the fridge for moments when urges for microwaved, bagged popcorn plus a splash of garlic oil might occur. 

I take a table spoon of this garlic laden oil and toss it in my iron skillet, sauteing it with some chops of Maui onion until the onions are translucent and the garlic browning around the edges. Then I add in a cup of frozen peas.  I heat their greenness to shriveling for a few minutes, then add a slice of yellow cheddar for color contrast. I toss and melt this mix til it's nearly burned onto the skillet, then scrape off an eggless peas n' cheese omelet.

I certainly won't be invited onto Rachel Ray's anytime soon to demonstrate such dishes, but I'm not ashamed....