Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cooking is my therapy

I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't bother me that I've been an infrequent blogger lately. It's partly the fact that I am a doer by nature, and not-doing makes me uneasy. It's also partly the fact that I've been doing a lot of other things instead that are less fun, namely day-job, day-job, and day-job. And then there's the fact that my blogging activity is directly correlated with the amount of cooking I'm doing, which means I haven't done much. I won't bore you with the details, but it's taken a toll on my sanity. I just haven't been feeling like myself -- I've been so cantankerous that I recently hissed "Boo!" to my secretary and he screamed like a girl. I threw back my head and cackled wickedly.

psy-cho-sis (si-ko-sis): 
A severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, 
characterized by derangement of personality and 
loss of contact with reality and 
causing deterioration of normal social functioning.

So, with my sanity hanging by a thread, I invited a friend over, rolled up my sleeves, and went back to the therapy that cured my chef's block: Indian food. Old habits die hard -- no photography. But I had start from my roots. Just getting my hands, tools, and appliances dirty were a good start. The end result was a tasty haleem (lamb and lentil stew -- I used a recipe off Saveur that turned out to be quite bland and I had to go to heroic efforts to rescue it), saag paneer (there's something extremely therapeutic about curdling milk and turning it into cheese), and a pseudo-tandoori chicken (not bad considering I didn't have a tandoor oven). I started to feel a little better.

Three days later, I got a bigger dose of therapy. Some friends, we'll call them the RBergs, brought over Susur Lee's cookbook, Susur: A Culinary Life. The book comes in two volumes that are bound together in a unique double-binding. The first volume talks all about techniques (or something... I never really looked at it) and contains some "basic" mini-recipes that Susur uses as part of whole recipes contained in the second volume. The recipes in the second volume were accompanied by photographs of fantastical food, assembled so that looked akin to sci-fi-Chinese-food-meets-molecular-gastronomy, even where the cooking methods employed were mostly traditional. RBerg and I laughed at how inaccessible the recipes were. Then, we picked the three recipes that contained the least obscure-sounding ingredients, and set off on a quest to find them.

We returned to the Speakeasy Kitchen feeling pretty triumphant. We hit 4 different stores for the ingredients, substituting only the licorice powder with ground star anise because we just didn't feel like going to the apothecary across town. With the cookbook open before us, it seemed that we may have bitten off more than we could chew by attempting three recipes.
I mean, it was just sheer, mad chaos in here.  Little bowls of partially mixed ingredients, 18 piles of perfectly julienned vegetables, and hot, scalding lobster juice splashed all over the place.
Lobster with junk in her eye. I harvested her roe for garnish in a later dish.
But before too long, my instincts kicked in, and before I knew it, we were straying from Susur's instructions.
Eighteen varieties of vegetables julienned to perfection, all in one bowl. We had to drive through a blizzard all over God's winter wonderland to get them.
For instance, Susur doesn't know squat about how to make spinach pasta. Or mayonnaise.
I'm so good at making pasta that I've made pasta my bitch.
And he certainly doesn't care about the distinction between paprikas. Or chorizos. And he uses ridiculous things as "garnish," like lobster.
Some kind of lobster, clam, and chorizo chowder with some lump of something under an oven-dried tomato that took 2 hrs in my convection oven (not 50 minutes in a conventional oven, as described in Susur's instructions) to dry.
There was a glaring and unforgivable absence of salt, stingy use of some flavor-imparting ingredients (like fermented black beans), and failure to appreciate how other ingredients could be used more efficiently (like saffron). Yeah, that's right, Susie. I'm calling you out.
Salad with, you guessed it, 18 different vegetables and quail eggs on spinach noodles, dressed with a spicy black bean dressing. Refreshing, yummy, and not bland, thanks to our discerning adjustments to the recipe.

But these errors and omissions did not go unnoticed or uncorrected. I reached down deep and I made it all better. It was like Susur's ludicrous recipes were a culinary case study into insanity that was reflective of my my non-culinary-driven insanity. It was an opportunity to sort out my head, heart, and soul.
Pretty much everything used in this recipe was a "garnish." Lobster salad, garnished with saffron  mayonnaise, fried lotus root, radish sprouts, chorizo, and a lobster claw.

It's a good thing I got one big cooking project out of my system because Mr. Rose has embarked on a massive kitchen renovation project... On the one hand, these are some much-needed improvements. On the other hand, it means the doctor is out. If I show up at your doorstep wielding a spatula and a crazed look in my eyes, don't panic. Just step aside, show me to your kitchen, and let me saute something. I'll be back to normal in no time.


  1. Yay! I'm glad you're back! And I'm kinda relieved by the crazy look in the last picture. Means things are slowly heading back to normal. Oh and there's a Pakistani brand (Shaan) that has a haleem kit (lentils and spices, you just add your own meat) that is pretty darn spectacular. Heck, my mom even uses it. Your local Indian/Pakistani grocer should have it (it's like $4 a box). Just don't get the Quick Cook Haleem box. That one sucks.

  2. I have an idea! Let's go to the mountains and you can cook all weekend. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY.

  3. Gorgeous plating, as ever! I'm always happy to play foodtographer and eater when you're feeling the need to cook - especially when the dishes are as pretty as these. Photography is my therapy - let's collaborate!

  4. OMG...I soooooo want lobster now! Great photos, btw ;)

  5. Great job on our dinner party! The Spinach Pasta Salad was an amazing blend of sweet, hot spicy, tart. Went well with the noodles. The Filet Mignon were blessedly moist and tender and pink in the middle-YUM!


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