Over these past few days, I’ve taken the time to read over all of my blog posts ever, from My Freestyle Kitchen which saw its last post in 2013 to the ongoing Coco et Cocoa which you are at the moment reading. I did this, not in a narcissistic way, because as any creative person knows all too well, looking back at earlier works of oneself is a torturous, nails-on-a-chalkboard sort of experience. If you still cannot sympathize the feelings it churned up in my gut, you can imagine it as reading aloud a stockpile sappy sweet love letters you once wrote to someone who you now realize is a pig gleefully rolling in its own excrement.
You get the picture.
I forced myself through each post with the determination to answer one question. Where to, from here on out?
Maybe it’s more than one question. They come, like a cluster of grapes – each tasting slightly different than the one hanging from its adjacent node, but all part of a whole. What is Coco et Cocoa about? What am I writing for? What draws out the strength in my voice as a writer? What is my style? And so on..
You could say that my blogging self is going through a mid-life crisis, or a crossroad, or an epiphany, whatever. And you’re probably right. But unlike those who tame their symptoms through medication or hormonal therapy, I can’t do that. I owe it to my restless mind, to my readers, and the God who gave me hands to write (err type) and a brain to think, and a heart to feel injustice, and gratitude to not just continue, but to do so with more honesty, more purpose and yes, inevitably with more mistakes, but with no less passion.
You will still find all of the previous posts, because I will not allow myself the luxury to erase what I have already said, no matter how naive or childish I was the moment I hit the “Publish” button. But I’m here to announce the direction for Coco et Cocoa from this day forward.
But before that, a confession (the last interruption I promise): I don’t like writing about food. I know there are lots of insightful, intelligent bloggers, columnists, and writers out there who truly enjoy writing about the plethora of aromas, textures, colour, and excitement that make up the seduction of food, but it’s not my cup of tea. And trust me, I’ve tried to like it. 7 years… I think that’s plenty enough.
Don’t worry though, Coco et Cocoa will forever be around food, just as all of humanity’s greatest conversations are made at the dinner table. And that’s what’s going to happen.
I’m talking controversy, friends. I want this space to address the tough questions. Sometimes with answers, sometimes without. And afterwards, we can have our meal, like what real friends do. We challenge each other, then we hug it out over a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs or a slice of cheesecake. If romantic, it probably is, still I imagine societies of old and new to be born in this way as the lovechild of conversation and food.
In the comments below, give me your thoughts on the topic of the next post: do politics belong at the dinner table?
In view of this,
I also do my best
to maintain always
a blameless conscience
both before God
and before men.
Ever since I discovered radiatore, the peculiar hybrid between fusilli and conchiglie, it’s become my favourite pasta shape (for now, anyway). Why? Because all its nooks and crannies end up holding an obscene amount of sauce like nobody’s business. And when the sauce in question is a cream of kabocha, the egg-yolky, nutty-sweet, squash that’s steamed then whipped to a voluptuous cream, then enhanced with even more cream and a dash of nutmeg…let’s just say there’s no stopping me from curling up on the couch and turning on HIMYM with a bowl of the stuff – just the sauce – balanced between my thighs. But wait, there’s also caramelized onions, WHISKY caramelized onions whose smokiness is inherited both from the charred oak barrels and its narrow escape from being burnt by the blaze of the stove. And the bacon, thickly sliced and glistening in its own delicious fat, filling the house (and my hair) with its applewood smoke. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are the fried sage leaves, transformed like cinderella from its dusty miller self to a glassy sea-witch green. Now where was I? Right, Ted. He just got beat up by a goat.
Radiatore with Cream of Pumpkin, Caramelized Bacon, and Fried Sage serves 4-6
Cream of Kabocha
- 750 g ripe, seeded kabocha squash, diced
- 3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 500 ml 18% cream
- 2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
- nutmeg, to taste
- Place the garlic and kabocha in a large pot, skin-side down in a single layer and add 1/2 and inch of water to the pot. Cover, and cook on medium high heat until the squash is completely tender when pierces with a knife and the water has completely evaporated. It’s alright if the natural sugars start to caramelize at the bottom of the pot.
- Pour in the cream and stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugars at the bottom of the pot. Once the cream begins to simmer, transfer to the blender and blend until completely smooth.
- Pass the squash and cream mixture back into the pot through a sieve, and season with salt and nutmeg.
Oops, I Burnt My Onions…Blame The Whiskey
- 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 125 ml whiskey
- salt, a generous pinch
- Heat a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-high heat.
- Add the butter and olive oil to the pan and swirl until melted.
- Add the onions and salt and stir so that the onions are coated in oil.
- When the onions begin to brown and stick, add a splash of whiskey and continue stirring. Repeat until the whiskey is all used up, the onions are deeply caramelized and even burnt in some bits. Remove from the heat.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 6-8 strips meaty thick cut dry-cured bacon, diced
- 1 handful sage leaves, separated
- 2 lb dried radiatore pasta, but conchiglie, fusilli, and penne would work well too
- caramelized onions
- cream of kabocha
- Bring a half a large pot of water to a rolling boil (this prevents your pot from boiling over). Add a good handful of salt and add the pasta. Stir for 30 seconds to prevent any sticking then cook for 8 minutes.
- Warm the cream of kabocha in its pot over medium low heat, stirring occasionally.
- As you wait for the water to boil and the sauce to warm, heat up a small saucepan on medium heat and add the olive oil and bacon. Cook until rendered and caramelized but not yet dry and crunchy – you want it to stay meaty and crisp, like the edge of roasted pork belly.
- Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Add the sage to the bacon grease and fry until crisp and bright green. Fish them out and drain on paper towel.
- Once the pasta is done – it should be noticeably short of al dente, add it to the sauce and stir to coat. DO NOT DISCARD THE PASTA WATER!!! Add a ladle or two of pasta water if necessary and stir over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the sauce thickens, becomes glossy, and the pasta is tender. Fold in the caramelized onions.
- Divide among 4-6 warmed pasta plates (it should be loose and slacken on the plate like a risotto) and top with the crispy bacon and sage. Season with more nutmeg and black pepper if desired and serve immediately.