Pesto Recipe…From The PaperGirl Kitchen.

posted in: Food 1
Not a covergirl, that pesto. Photo: Wikipedia
She’s no covergirl, pesto. Photo: Wikipedia

What is this, a food blog?!

I have been making a lot of pesto lately. Most of the items in my fridge right now are just vehicles for this pesto. I learned how to make it in Iowa City when I worked at The Motley Cow Cafe my last two years in college. I’m drumming up a PaperGirl mini-series on that experience. High-stakes drama, bodice-ripping, love triangles, salmon papillote — fascinating times. (Jeff, I remain ashamed about Charlottesville.)

Not long ago, Claus was coming over for dinner. I texted him to please pick up pine nuts because I was going to make my pesto and had forgotten that important ingredient. But the text was not received; Claus did not bring a single pine nut with him. I huffed and puffed; the man, much like me, never turns on his phone. I got my coat and went to get the dang nuts myself, when he said, “Let’s just eat something else.” No! Pesto! Then I realized I had walnuts in the pantry. Wasn’t walnut pesto a thing? I seemed to remember that it was.

It’s a thing, all right — and to my taste, walnut pesto is far superior to pine nut pesto. I’ll never go back. Pine nuts grind down almost to butter, while walnuts retain some body. Pesto is supposed to be a paste, sure, but walnuts lend a fantastic texture. That night, necessity was the mother of realization, and I’d like to share my excitement. This recipe is similar to my Cheesy Biscuits For All recipe, which is to say it’s rough — but I stand by it 100%. If you prefer a more precise recipe, may I show you something in life-altering chocolate cake? 

PaperGirl Pesto

*You’ll need a food processor to make this.*

A big thing of basil from the produce section of the grocery store
Olive oil (a lot)
A passel of raw, whole walnuts (make sure they’re not old — old nuts are so gross)
Couple shallots
Decent-sized clove of garlic, if you like garlic
Parmesan cheese (a big hunk of it and don’t use the powdered stuff! Don’t even have that stuff in your fridge! Buy a hunk of Parmesan cheese for your fridge and grate it onto your food fresh! It’s such a small thing and it makes such a big difference in life! Got it? Okay, good!)
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

NOTE: “But how many cups of walnuts is in a passel?? And how much cheese? What does “a lot” mean?? This is madness.” I don’t know the answers to your questions. Really, I don’t. But I don’t have to know, and neither do you. Just look at pictures of pesto. Think about how pesto tastes. Pesto is mostly nuts and basil, right? Right. And it’s oily. And it’s got a savory, almost onion-y flavor, and the tang of the Parmesan. Think on these things and then just go with your sense. It’s ratios. You’ll know what to do.

1. Fill a big bowl with water and float the basil in it. The dirt, sand, etc. will fall down to the bottom of the bowl. I don’t know if I have to do it this way, but when I wash basil in a colander, it gets depressed. Shake off water, blot with a paper towel.

2. In a pan on the stove, roast the nuts on a low heat. You don’t want to actually toast your walnuts, just “release the aroma” of them, as they say in Fancy Food Blogs That Don’t Know I Exist. Set aside. Don’t burn those nuts. Yuck.

3. Dice up those shallots. Same with garlic. Get olive oil in pan. Roast your shallots and garlic. People will come into the kitchen and ask you what you’re making. Say, “Go away. I’m doing something for the first time. I’ll let you know if it works out.” When the shallots and/or onion are translucent, set aside.

4. Pick stems off basil. Throw stems out, throw the leaves in a food processor. Put shallot and/or garlic mush in food processor, too. Dump in your walnuts.

5. Oh, I forgot to tell you: get that hunk of Parmesan and grate it. You can have too much Parm in your pesto, so don’t go overboard, here. And remember that Parm tastes salty, so when you add salt to your green sludge, go easy on it. You can’t unsalt.

6. Pour some olive oil into the food processor bowl with all the other stuff in there already. You’ll be surprised how much oil is in pesto. Because you don’t want crumbled green stuff; you want a paste. You want to spread this stuff on bread, or steak, or on someone’s face. Smooth. Almost creamy. So pour it in, baby.

7. Salt and pepper. See #5 for a word about salt. Now hit the button and watch the green sludge begin to blend and swirl.

8. Unlock the bowl, stick a finger in there. What do you think? Do you have nuts left? Do you need to put more in? Is it smooth enough? Is it amazing? Yeah! You did it! It’s tough to un-salt, and it’s hard to put more basil in your pesto if you’re out, and yeah, you might’ve put too much oil in this time but you can pour some of that off and with enough wine, no one will notice. But I bet you did pretty well your first time out!

9. Eat it.

Feed Me, Kansas City.

posted in: Food 0
You're dead to me, pig. Photo: Wikipedia
You’re dead to me, pig. Image: Wikipedia

Last night, I ate a rack of barbeque ribs. The entire rack. And I have no regrets.

I don’t clean my plate too often. There’s usually something I can’t eat or something I don’t like as much as something else (sorry beets, but I am eating blue cheese instead of you.) So when the waiter comes to take away my plate, he’s gonna have to scrape stuff into the garbage. Now hang on: I’m not wasteful, I’m just not a plate-licker. Last night was an exception.

Mom and I are in Kansas City lecturing to the hundreds (!) of attractive, talented women of the Lee’s Summit Quilt Guild. We arrived around five o’clock yesterday and had time to have dinner together. This would have been terrific no matter what day it was, but it was Mother’s Day! It was super to be with Mom on Mother’s Day.

We went to Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza district; if you’ve never visited, you must make it there someday. The area is four miles south of downtown and is all cobblestones, terracotta tiles and fountains. The folks who designed it modeled the whole thing after Seville, Spain, so you get the picture. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the work I do, work that allows me to travel the great United States? Well, I’m mentioning it again.

We went to Houston’s for dinner. Houston’s has been in Kansas City for well over thirty years, maybe longer. (Research tells me they have a handful of locations in other cities, now.) The wait for a table was over an hour, but Mom and I spied a couple stools at the bar and nabbed them.

I saw this man eating this slab of meat and every fibre of my being screamed, “Eat that! Please eat that as soon as possible!” I ordered the barbeque pork ribs and skipped the coleslaw and fries for a side of broccoli. I know, I hate me, too.

I ate that slab of ribs like it was the first meal I had had in a month. I didn’t do the flip-top head thing and insert the entire slab, whole, into my face. If I could’ve I might’ve. Those ribs were so buttery, so succulent, I’m weeping as I write this. The sauce was the perfect balance of tangy and sweet and the sauce seemed to have soaked through the meat as it cooked: this was not meat painted with sauce. This was meat doing naughty, naughty things with sauce. This slab of ribs was sacrilegiously, slap-yo-mama good. All right, maybe I just haven’t had decent ribs in awhile, but I don’t think I was just rib-deprived. These were the Lord’s ribs.

Anyway, I ate the whole thing, bone by bone. I sucked the things dry. The broccoli felt a little left out until I was done with my plate and then they got their big moment when I used the stuff to wipe up the sauce. I realize I may have painted an undignified, unladylike picture of me with BBQ sauce all over my face, panting over a plate of bones. This is my fault. I tried to dab the corners of my mouth with my white linen napkin but if anyone sitting close had looked at me closely, they would’ve seen wolverine in my eyes.

I go to Chicago next week (I know), then Wisconsin for my sister’s wedding (I know!) and then it’s to St. Louis for a BabyLock event. Looks like I need to attack polish sausage, cheese, and toasted ravioli, in that order. Until those pit stops, fasting on water is perhaps wise.

Marie Antoinette’s Hot Chocolate Drink.

posted in: Food 0
I googled "hot chocolate in teacup" and got this, which is better than any image I could have ever, ever imagined for a post about Marie Antoinette. Or anything else. Photo:
I googled “hot chocolate in teacup” and got this, which is better than any image I could have ever imagined for any post, ever. If only it were bigger. Photo:

Exactly 221 years ago today, Marie Antoinette was beheaded!

With all the talk of the growing wage gap and the new billionaires and all, the French Revolution occurs to me from time to time. Could a bloody, desperate people’s revolution against a privileged and corrupt elite happen again? Here?? (Answer: Anything can happen anywhere and usually does. So yes.)

I’d much rather talk about hot chocolate. In an hour’s worth of research about Marie Antoinette, I learned that aside from not actually saying that thing about cake (it was a line in a story written by someone when she was just nine and falsely attributed to her) she liked to have hot chocolate in the mornings. Curious about how one might make Marie Antoinette Hot Chocolate, I consulted the oracle and indeed found the recipe for her exact hot chocolate on the official Chateau de Versailles website. It’s been passed down through the ages and this really does seem to be the way Louie and Mar-Mar liked it. Check this out:

“Place the same quantity of chocolate bars and glasses of water in a coffee maker and boil gently; when you are ready to serve, place one egg yolk for four servings and stir over a gentle heat but do not boil. If prepared the night before, those who drink it every day leave a leaven for the one they make the next day; instead of an egg yolk you may use a whisked egg white after having removed the first mousse, mix it with some of the chocolate from the coffee maker then pour back into the coffee maker and finish the preparation as with the egg yolk.”**

I assume they do not mean you should put chocolate through your Mr. Coffee tomorrow morning. And as for “the same quantity of chocolate bars and glasses of water,” there’s no mention of how large these bars are, or what sort of cacao percentage you should work with. I’ll bet they used extremely chocolatey chocolate, but it’s anyone’s guess. I do think if you attempt this (and I will and will let you know what happens) you ought to serve it in the fanciest cup you can dig around for. Marie liked it with whipped cream and an orange blossom, apparently, so get thee to an orange grove or the Versailles orangerie or, you know, Whole Foods.

**Source: “Les Soupers de la Cour ou l’Art de travailler toutes sortes d’aliments pour servir les meilleurs tables suivant les quatre saisons” (Court dinners or the Art of working different foods for the best restaurants based on the four seasons), by Menon, 1755 (BN, V.26995, volume IV, p.331)

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

posted in: Food, Tips 1
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.


I have just made a lobster bisque.

Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York. I’ve been crisscrossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being separated a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.

“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”

I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:

“Can you make lobster bisque?”


“Absolutely,” I texted back, because though I’ve never made lobster bisque, it’s just soup, right?

Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — science experiments. You take a beaker of this, a cup of that, you boil this, you mix that, and blam! stuff changes color, there’s oxidation, titration, solids, and who knows what else, but you can eat everything and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.

Here’s what I have very recently learned about making lobster bisque:

  • It’s expensive. I purchased four lobster tails (roughly 4oz. each) from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap — and those little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup. 
  • It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done. 
  • It’s sorta gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart. 

As I was going briskly about my bisque business, I thought about Maine, where “lobstahs” are to Maine folk as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.

In the summer of 2007 and 2009, I stayed a month on Maine’s picturesque Little Cranberry Island (known to the locals as “Little Cran”.) My artistic mentor and friend Sonja, along with her husband Bill, founded The Islesford Theater Project (ITP) on Little Cran and they asked me to be involved. Making theater with those people in the summer was a true gift and we made a lot of people happy, I think; whenever the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see.

And when you’re in the cast, you get to stay in Sonja and Bill’s house and eat Sonja’s home cooking every night. This is a very, very good thing. Blueberry crisps, tacos, Indian food — that woman can and does cook everything. Well, Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was transcendental. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Dinner was served. There was a dish of melted butter for each of us, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: Whole lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me. And after making this soup, I’m not that excited to eat it. I’m excited for other things.

Just hurry, Yuri.

My Soup, My Salad, My Nemesis: Vapiano

I'm sure these people had a better time.
I’m sure these people had a better time. Especially the dude in the hat. He always has a good time.

At brunch on Sunday, my (affianced!) sister Rebecca told tales of her recent trip to Tokyo. A transcription of that exciting conversation is forthcoming, but last night I was reminded of the specific tale she shared of the elegant efficiency of Tokyo noodle shops. I was reminded because I was sad.

Here’s how a Tokyo noodle shop works: you step up to an automated kiosk and put in your money. You press a button for the kind of ramen you want (select by picture) and bloop! out comes a ticket. You take the ticket to the noodle man and zing! he makes your ramen. Double happiness, arigato! No cashier, no waiter, no wait. The only possible mess in this process might be soup on your blouse.

Friends, let us leave the Tokyo ramen shop and pay a visit to its berserker anti-matter evil twin: Vapiano in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

[Pardon me, darling: before I begin, I’ll need my blood pressure medication, yes, thank you, and my smelling salts. Is there Xanax? There is? Yes, dear. I’ll have two, please, one for now and one for five minutes from now. I’ll take them with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Thank you, darling, and a napkin. That’s good. Yes, that’s very nice. Now, gather ‘round, children.]

Vapiano is a German-owned restaurant chain. The first Vapiano opened in 2002 and today there are 120 locations worldwide. Chicago got a roomy one in the old Carson Pirie Scott building about a year ago. During the construction phase, I passed it and felt happy because a quick, freshly prepared salad option downtown is always welcome news. Indeed, Vapiano proclaims “fresh” Italian-style pizza, pasta, soup, salad, and dessert. And each Vapiano restaurant has a full bar and a large dish of gratis gummy bears at the host stand when you walk in. Why, I don’t know, but when we went there, Yuri ate two handfuls of them immediately. This ended up being a smart move because at Vapiano, it’s gon’ be awhile.

The first thing that happens is that you’re greeted by a hostess so scared to tell you what’s about to happen, she races through the spiel fast enough you may wonder if she’s speaking English. Something about cards? Something about stations? Tapping? Paying…sometime in the future? She thrusts menu cards into your hands and you are then absorbed by the Vapiano food pen. We learn from the Vapiano website that the name is a word inspired by an Italian proverb that goes, “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano,” which translates to: “People with a relaxed attitude live a long and healthy life.” Clearly, Vapiano stakeholders are being ironic. There is nothing relaxed or healthy about their “high-concept” restaurant. “Long” works. Keep “long.”

So you get a credit card thing. There are stations in the food pen for the different offerings, pizza, pasta, etc. You stand at the counters and order what you want from the long-suffering line cooks whose smiles are so obviously required for employment there, you want to lean forward conspiratorially and tell them they can give it a rest. But you don’t. Because you’re hungry. You tell them what you want and then they say something you can’t hear and they make a swiping motion and gesture to your card. You look around for a credit card machine, but there isn’t one. There’s a screen, though, embedded in the counter, so you smoosh your card down there and it goes beep! and the line cook looks with a pitying look of congratulations and begins to make your carbonara.

Which takes a long time. So long. And you’re not seated at a table waiting, remember. You’re just standing around. And what do you do with the card? Well, the Vapiano people tell you that this is the beauty of the whole thing, that you can take the card all around and just keep ordering all kinds of stuff for hours and hours and your card keeps everything straight for you. (A waiter is surprisingly efficient for this, too, but don’t mind me; my Xanax just kicked in.) But… But where do you put it? Your wallet seems a little…final. Your pocket seems risky, though, because you’re blithely eating all this German-Italian (?) relaxation and health and what happens if you lose that card or forget what it is and give it to your kid’s teacher for Christmas? And it still wasn’t totally clear whether or not we should pay and then eat or hang onto the card even longer and let its confusing presence further flavor our caprese salad.

I spent most of the “experience” running all over the damned place, picking up the food we had ordered 20 minutes earlier. Got the soup! Okay! What else? Oh! Salad! Be right back! Ooh! Our pager went off! (Oh, there are pagers involved, too.) Pizza! Okay, do we have everything? Okay, I totally wanted a piece of pizza, but that’s okay! No, I wasn’t here. It’s fine. How was it? Awesome. Ooh! Dessert! Be right back.

Surely there are people who love this. Surely there are people who understand it better. I am entirely aware that I’ve probably done Vapiano incorrectly, that there’s something wrong with me. If anyone, German, Italian, American, or otherwise can help me, help me, because I really really like the tomato soup.

Seriously, it’s great.