Earlier this summer, in Sun Valley, Idaho, I burned two racks of ribs. I’d made a dry rub with lots of brown sugar and cayenne pepper, sprinkled it all over the ribs, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and placed them in the oven for low-and-slow cooking. This, however, was an unfamiliar oven in an unfamiliar kitchen (we were staying with our friends Harry and Cris) and when the ribs came out, hours later, they bore a closer resemblance to King Tutankhamun than anything you’d actually want to eat.
Thankfully, there was coleslaw. Not just any coleslaw: my coleslaw. What can I say? I’m something of a coleslaw whisperer. It’s something that I ate often, growing up. My mom would buy cartons of coleslaw from the deli, along with macaroni salad (remember macaroni salad?) and she’d keep them both in the refrigerator next to a pitcher of Crystal Light lemonade.
This summer, I’ve been having an affair. No, not in the bedroom, in the kitchen. I’m passionately in love with a vinegar; not just any vinegar, but white balsamic vinegar.
It all started when I was ordering groceries to pick up from McCalls Meat & Fish (yes, I know I mention them a lot). Their online store has an oils and vinegars section, so I checked out their offerings and saw that they had white balsamic. I’d never used white balsamic before, but I was intrigued, so I bought it. And that’s when everything changed. I started feeling feelings I’d never felt about a vinegar before.
I’m sitting on a bench in the West Village, waiting for Craig to finish editing, and since I have some time to kill I’m going to tell you a story about something that happened to me a few weeks ago. I was at a party in West Hollywood on the top of a building and Craig, and several of our friends, had made their way up to the roof. I’d just poured myself a plastic cup of red wine and wasn’t sure what to do, so I put the plastic cup in my mouth, biting the lip, and started my way up the ladder. At some point, I wanted to see how much further I had to go, and–like a modern day CARRIE–I lifted my head up and completely doused myself with cheap Pinot Noir. I had to walk through a room of attractive strangers searching for paper towels while dripping purple/red fluid.
Necessity is the mother of invention (its Baby Mama, if you will) and so it was that a few weeks ago I had carrots, onions, celery, and some Arborio rice on hand and because I didn’t feel like food shopping that evening, I set out to make a risotto with just water. I’ve told you about this before; it’s something I saw Lidia do on TV, so you know it’s legit. You just bring a big pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then make risotto like you’d normally make risotto, only using the salted water instead of chicken broth. The key is to finish it with some butter and lots of cheese. It’s good stuff.
But I’m not here to tell you about making risotto with water. I’m here to tell you about what you can do with the leftover risotto the next day.
When I first adopted Lolita from the Atlanta Humane Society in 2001, her name was Princess. She was in a room full of mangy cats, but she seemed very ladylike and elegant; she held herself differently, a Christine Baranski type, who wanted out of this dump. I took her home and gave her the name Lolita, a name she quickly grew into as my friends and roommates would often describe her as a diva. “Lolita really is a Lolita,” a friend once quipped. With her high-pitched voice and frequent demands, it was never hard to imagine her as royalty. Lolita–or Princess Peepers or Lady Lola, as I’d sometimes call her–would clearly be played by Helen Mirren in the movie version of her life.
This is Molly. She works at The Cheese Store of Silverlake, one of my favorite places to shop before a dinner party, and recently I decided to go in without an agenda. “Look Molly,” I said, “usually I come in here with a recipe and then just get the stuff I need, but this time I’m putting my fate in your hands!” She gave me a weird look. “What’s the best thing I could possibly make for dinner using the cheeses from your shop?” She thought for a moment and then said: “Ummm…what about spaghetti in a spicy tomato sauce with white anchovies and a raw pecorino?” Umm…what about YES!??!
That sandwich you see towering above you is called the Stella Hero from Stella Barra Pizza, where Craig and I went for lunch before seeing Gone Girl this past Sunday. The question isn’t “what’s in that thing?”, the question is: “What isn’t in that thing?” It’s got smoked ham, turkey, capicola (cured pork shoulder), tomato, Caciocavallo cheese, Giardiniera (a spicy pickled condiment), and lettuce. It’s a sandwich for the ages, served on warm crusty bread that’s a perfect foil for all the soft meats and cheese inside. There really isn’t a bad thing to say about it, except this: it took 30 minutes to get to our table.
It started innocently enough. I Tweeted a picture of a serving dish from The Hart and the Hunter and asked, “If I want to find a plate like this on E-Bay, what would I search for?” (OK, ending a sentence with a preposition isn’t so innocent, but go with me here.) A few people responded: “Transferware.” I Googled Transferware, to get a definition, and Wikipedia offered: “A style of ceramics including pottery, dinnerware, and other delicate items. It uses transfer printing, a decorative technique which was developed in England in the mid-18th century, particularly around the Staffordshire region.” Then I started searching for Transferware plates on E-Bay and I haven’t been able to stop since.