A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo

Alissa & Chris for Oscar night in Saint James, NY in February 2017.

Inspiration comes in so many forms, especially when considering what to write. For Kissing Cooks, my mind (and heart, of course) is surging with ideas about how Chris and I can spend our time together—mostly for when we’re in the kitchen right now because it’s still winter here on Long Island and outdoor activities are a bit limited (though hopefully not for long). For us, the cooking routine and dynamics are interesting and new to explore because neither of us have ever had such kitchen chemistry with past partners, nor was the frequency and desire as excitedly present as we’re discovering. This is only further driving how we swap our inspirations, especially about all things creative, beyond shared cuisine too.

Alissa & Chris meeting Clinton Kelly at the Book Revue in Huntington, NY in January 2017.

Let’s get back to the food… Last week, I was watching an episode of The Chew, absorbing all the food information I could (like a student who dutifully attends a lecture—I’m no longer in school, which prompts me to seek education in any form I possibly can. My mind is always hungry for knowledge.). This is when I came across a seemingly straightforward and fast recipe for arugula pesto farfalle with chicken, presented by cohost Clinton Kelly (someone with whom I have greatly admired for a long time when it comes to fashion, food, and words). Clinton Kelly has already had somewhat of an influence on my relationship with Chris (see our About page for those adorable details), which made me all the more eager to explore how Chris and I could adopt this recipe as our own gluten free version.

Before I get into the who-did-whats of our food preparation, I’d like to address the fact that the title of this post is “A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo.” I pride myself as someone who appreciates language, both foreign and domestic. This title is not only a mix of French and Italian (two languages that have largely impacted my life in how I look at the world, write, dress, and decorate my apartment), but also admittedly, it’s misleading. An “amuse bouche” literally translates in French as a “mouth amuser” (as per Wikipedia), which is typically served in bite-sized form, like an hors d’oeuvre. While our mouths are thoroughly amused by everything having to do with kissing, food, and conversation, there’s nothing about this particular pesto-centric meal that qualifies it as a true amuse bouche. I’m clarifying to ward off anyone reading who has identified any misrepresentation of this appetizer course, which dates back to the 1960s. If further argument is needed, may I refer you to the first paragraph about how Chris and I are each other’s muses. And yes, wordplay is always invited to dinner!

heart-flags

Secondly, “festivo” is Italian for “holiday.” My relationship with Chris began right smack in the middle of the end-of-the-year holiday season, and this has only been amplified by the fact that the decadence of awards season (movies, television, and music) also feels like a celebration. We’re such movie nerds that preparing for Oscar night felt like getting ready for a holiday in itself. In total, we saw three of the Best Picture nominees together (La La Land, Arrival, and Lion), and two individually (Chris: Hell or High Water and Alissa: Hidden Figures).

Alissa & Chris with Mr. Oscar himself (in mere poster form) while at the movies in Stony Brook, NY in February 2017.

So… Chris and I made plans to watch the Academy Awards together, as a time-friendly meal was on the horizon for last Sunday night, especially since I’d be at work for most of the day and couldn’t meal prep like I usually preferred to do. That, in combination with the fact that I love pesto (a consequence of savoring much of it in many different green forms during my time studying and writing in Florence), readied me for the challenge to switch farfalle out for brown rice fusilli (Tinkyada—I couldn’t find any gluten free farfalle at my local Stop and Shop), chicken thighs for grilled chicken strips (Perdue Short Cuts), and leave out the golden raisins all together (though I’m not opposed to using them in the future).

When I moved into my first apartment, my parents very generously gifted me tons of used and small kitchen necessities and appliances that were perfect for just such a bachelorette who wasn’t always so food-savvy (not that I really am now, but I’ve come a long way, if I may say so myself). Among these appreciated donations was a small 1.5 cup-size food processor (Kitchen Gourmet) that was stored and ignored for well over three years in my cabinet. Whenever I looked at it, I heard the whispered word “pesto” in the air, like the ghost of Christmas past was lurking in the shadows of my stacks of Cheerios boxes, haunting and taunting me to take on the challenge. Making fresh pesto never really seemed impossible; it was just never terribly urgent for me to explore, what with balancing two jobs, grad school, finances, an ever-changing personal life, and the need for sleep. That is, until now.

When Clinton Kelly (yes, I’m always going to use his first and last name, though we’ve met and hugged and shared some memorable laughs) whipped up his meal in mere minutes, I was determined to produce just such an effortless dinner for Chris and I to enjoy before the big night. Because my food processor is so small, it took a few more steps than I anticipated for the arugula pesto to come together. This entailed emptying out the grated Parmesan, walnuts (Diamond), garlic, and arugula from the bowl and refilling it with another round of the same unpulsed ingredients. Then I emptied that second mixture into the first batch so that the pesto could form with extra virgin olive oil in all of its gastronomic green glory.

Chris kept a watchful eye on the fusilli as we microwaved the chicken (time was an issue since there was also some red carpet watching and cleaning up to do before the ceremony started), while serving up some Riesling (RELAX, a new favorite of ours). Once all was ready, I spooned some pesto into our bowls first (as per Clinton Kelly’s instructions), followed by our pasta. We mixed the multi colored fusilli until all of its corners and curls were covered in the peppery arugula mixture, followed by the strips of hot chicken and topping it all off with dollops of part skim ricotta. There’s no such thing as too much cheese for the Kissing Cooks.

I needn’t capture how the rest of the night went. If you saw the Oscars, then you know. However, our pesto dish was a tasty success. No envelope mix up could deny that victory. Congratulations to all the nominees who worked so hard to present relevant and moving stories on the silver screen to audiences across the world, and inspiring Chris and I to learn more movie trivia along the way. The highly praised modern-day musical La La Land is a particularly special film for us; it was the first movie we saw in theaters (on our 15th date—who’s counting?—just two days after attending a meet and greet with Clinton Kelly who was promoting his essay collection, I Hate Everyone Except You). In addition, the film’s signature love ballad “City of Stars” performed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was the first song we slow danced to (actually in the movie theater during the end credits—Chris’ idea!). The soundtrack and score to the movie is also often playing during our at-home meals, lending its magical musing to every step of our romance.

Alissa & Chris rehearsing their Kissing Cooks ways before seeing La La Land in Farmingdale, NY in January 2017.

For dessert, we each indulged in some vanilla frozen yogurt (Target’s ever-reliable Market Pantry brand) topped with chocolate syrup, dark chocolate sprinkles, mini chocolate chips (Nestlé), whipped cream, and maraschino cherries. Overall, it was an utterly enjoyable night of cooking, cleaning, couture, cuddling, commentary, and cinema. We couldn’t ask for more!

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

A Night of Firsts

It was a night of firsts. 

I have to start this post out with that absolute and ominous line because it sounds very Dickensian. When fashion and food aren’t on my mind, it’s all about the books. After all, Charlie is my literary boss hero, and I’m in the middle of reading (or rather, lavishing in) David Copperfield. That’s just a little bit about me as we get to know each other! However, I digress… I don’t want readers to be mistaken that this is a nerdy literary blog, especially when our name is Kissing Cooks. This is a nerdy cooking blog, we promise. Keep reading for some food dish. (Warning #1: Puns exist here.)

So, it was a night of firsts. Tuesday, February 14, 2017 was the first night that Chris and I made lasagna together and ever; individually, it just never happened for either of us, though we can easily lose count at the number of homemade lasagna dinners that we’ve had with family and other fine dining companions over the course of our thirty plus years on Long Island, where the notions of making and having lasagna are as present as our accents. 

Additionally, this post marks the first written installment on Kissing Cooks, which is the first joint project Chris and I are sharing in our young, exciting relationship. Also, we’ve celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together this week, which was every bit the romantic and fun experience any couple could hope for. (Warning #2 [specifically to anyone whose appetite for sentimental borders on barely minimal]: We’re a mushy twosome who really dig each other, as evidenced by this inspired social media milestone in our courtship. Please don’t let that deter you from continuing with us on our yummy journey.) 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this kitchen-centric experience is the fact that we are a gluten-free couple. Though, I’m a part-time anti-gluten glutton in supportive solidarity with Chris’ healthier dietary needs. However, this first for me is anything but limited when my favorite guy is by my side and we’re going at it, and by that, I mean clanging those pots and pans in cabinets and drawers, preparing as a pair for perfect eats on a somewhat regular basis now. If we weren’t already, we’re totally domesticating each other, what with discussions of kitchen utensil trips to IKEA (handy lists in tow) and how we can incorporate other ingredients into future meals we ogled during our first afternoon browse date through the local Whole Foods Market recently.

Chris & Alissa enjoying brunch at Maureen’s Kitchen in Smithtown, NY in January 2017.

Let’s clear a few things up first. We’re not likely to post actual recipes on here. As much as I love writing about food and feasting my eyes on beautifully photographed, glossy-paged cook books by professional celebrity chefs (Hey Giada de Laurentiis, if you’re reading!), Kissing Cooks is more about inspiring others with our takes on the experience of cooking together, and less about exact formulas for how what we’ve created said dishes. As (let’s be honest) beginner-level home cooks, we love to use recipes found on Pinterest as a reference for whatever our latest meal plan includes. It’s important to mention that Chris and I are not cooking rebels or defying what it takes to create a well-intentioned and delicious recipe, nor do we think that we’re experts in anything involving food. We just love to eat. We love to kiss. And we love food memories. So in order to marry those pleasurable activities, a wordy and picture-heavyish log of our cooking concoctions shall thrive here. What happens in the kitchen certainly won’t stay in the kitchen, at least in our case.

In my own gastronomic quests (specifically baking from the box), I intently read the cardboard container from favorites like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Duncan Hines. Then, after a few trials of chocolate, I’ve tinkered here and there to discover the necessary tweaks for optimal flavor indulgence and well-accessorized presentation, honing my kitchen instincts. Like an outfit a person wears, how one dresses their food and home (like at the kitchen table) help to create more texture and delight for the whole darn memory. Aside from box baking and pantry scavenging, my only other qualifications for just such a project as Kissing Cooks is binging superfluous hours of cooking shows (for example: The Chew, anything Giada does [are you out there, girl?], and more). I’ve studied a wee bit in the world of food (see our About page to get hella jealous of my festive Florentine feats). Most significantly, I have been actually eating food ALL OF MY LIFE (Chris too!)! Not to mention that said lifetime of eating also includes inspiration from my parents whose time in the kitchen while I was growing up has not only taught me the foundations of food preparation and the importance of time spent together at the dinner table, but a lot about how to manage “adulting,” because such a word is a commonplace verb nowadays.

Let’s get back to the lasagna, shall we? As usual, Chris and I co-piloted: he multitasked, managing the foundation to any delectable lasagna dish comprised of pasta (Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles), sauce (Prego traditional), and ground turkey (Jennie-O) browning in some extra virgin olive oil. Whereas I prepared a luscious mixture of (the following store brand, budget-friendly ingredients, including) ricotta and mozzarella cheese (both part skim), two large eggs, and all the appropriate seasonings we love like garlic powder, oregano, and parsley (also, this was my first time actually preparing ricotta with a dash of nutmeg—and it was totally worth it, flavor-wise). In between, we maintained with the cleaning-washing-drying dynamic to stay one step ahead when different kitchenware items were no longer needed (a task I take very seriously since my little one-bedroom apartment doesn’t include a dishwasher, aside from my left and right hands). We referenced a helpful recipe from McCormick for bake time and temperature specifics, which worked out perfectly for a hot minute (not literarlly) to clean up a bit more, set the table accordingly, and watch the latest cackle-inducing episode of New Girl, our go-to what-to-do-during-cook-time show.

Once all was baked and rested, we dug into that sucker like pigs searching for truffles… and man, was it good! We didn’t need to prepare any garlic bread or side salad because we just wanted that lasagna—and seconds of that lasagna, to boot! The best part (for me, at least—Chris wasn’t asked his opinion here) is a tie between the actual preparation of the meal and finally getting our butts seated to enjoy it with each other. While he and I could never run out of goofy, thoughtful, or sweet things to say to each other, the precious silence in between each bite and sip of Pinot Grigio (Cupcake Vineyards) meant more to me than any twelve-hundred-plus-word blog could express.

What’s better is that the icing on the cake (or equivalent silver-lining cheesy topping on the dish, again strictly for me) was that there were plenty of leftovers for Chris and me to relive the gorgeousness of flavor and affection for at least two-to-three more meals the following day or so.

We had such a blast. We’re still talking about it, even a day after the fact. We plan on making some version of this meal again for family and friends in the future. I can’t wait to make more lasagna memories with Chris. Also, I’d like to thank our readers (probably close friends and immediate family) for taking the time to share in the development of Kissing Cooks.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.