Monica Ali's latest novel, In the Kitchen (Scribner), came out in June.
Next: Walter Mosley's Easy Eatin'
The ideal meal for me...I stop here to say that cooking relies on one basic rule: the quality of the ingredients. That said, my ideal meal is a boneless rib-eye steak (seasoned with granulated garlic, sea salt, and a mixture of red and black pepper) broiled to medium. I toss a salad of Bibb lettuce with a dressing of olive oil, red vinegar, crushed garlic, coarse ground black pepper, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, and a tablespoon of port wine. For a vegetable I mince six or seven heads of brussels sprouts and a shallot or two. These I sauté in Irish butter until the greens are almost cooked through. Then I sprinkle in a little soy sauce, cover the pan, and let it simmer for a few minutes. (If there isn't enough liquid in the pan, I might drizzle in a little water to keep the dish from burning.)
Since I'm cutting down on the carbs these days, this is the meal I'd make. But if I'm feeling especially in need of spiritual sustenance, I might add a little basmati rice with sautéed shiitaki mushrooms. And for dessert I'd prepare panna cotta (cooked cream with very little sugar).
Walter Mosley's most recent novel, The Long Fall (Riverhead), was published in March.
Next: Patricia Volk Loves Dirty Food
I love dirty food. Dirt is the stuff people usually throw out, e.g., the rubbery "skin" on vanilla pudding after it's exposed to cold air in the fridge. Dirt is the dark film that forms as cocoa cools in the pot. Break it up with a spoon, stir it in, you've got dirty hot chocolate, nicely unsmooth and imperfect, hence complex.
There are those who will tell you dirty food does little to enhance presentation. But a dirty brisket sandwich would be torment without pan scrapings. I like seeing and eating something that shows it was made by human hand in a slow old-fashioned way. When I'm eating a lemon mousse, while I appreciate the smoothness, discovering a bit of pulp exhilarates. You never have to strain anything for me. Lumps are treasures, and so are little bits of black fat at the bottom of the roasting pan if onions are in it. In Yiddish, these carbonized fat-soaked threads are known as gribenes. People, families, have been known to fight over them. In France, burnt crumbs that collect at the bottom of the skillet when you sauté floured food is fond. Gribenes and fond are why we have Lipitor.
Congealed anything, stuff that leaks between the bread and gets frazzled on the panini maker, hard bits, dried bits, soggy bits, crunch, globs, gobs, and, yes, flecks—anything you might toss even though it has more taste per concentrated morsel than the star of the meal, bring it on. There's a reason the word edible is found in incredible.
Patricia Volk is the author of Stuffed (Vintage) and, most recently, the novel To My Dearest Friends (Vintage).
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