I really miss my left arm. A wise woman once sang, you don't know what you got til its gone. Well, being a righty, my left arm has always seemed like an inferior appendage. Its only really there to assist the right one, no? I'm ashamed to say this is how I used to think. But all that changed on Monday evening. Or maybe on Friday evening when a guy at a bar told me I was like a young Daniel Day Lewis.
Let me back up.
Monday evening I was on my way uptown to do a reading at New Dramatists. I was looking forward to it and had a little bounce to my step as I walked down to the subway. Perhaps it was this fatal bounce that led me to step directly into the small puddle of NYC gunk that someone had spilled on the platform. Whatever it was, in slow motion I felt my legs fly up in the air in front of me and my body turn midair landing entirely and directly on my left elbow. It hurt so much I wasn't even embarrassed by all the people staring at me, or the huge mess my iced coffee made when it hit the concrete. Or the fact that an old lady came up to me to tell me she does that all the time and then criticize my insubstantial footwear. Shaken, I got on the train and went to the reading, which went well, though I probably looked like an ass, being the only one on stage seemingly refusing to clap for the likes of Marian Seldes.
Afterwards, over a glass of wine at the reception, I was convinced to go to the ER if only to confirm my belief that this was merely a bad bruise. Well, you can probably guess the rest. A sling, some xrays, and a wondrous percocet later, the verdict came in: Radial head fracture of the ulna. Dirty. Arm: out of commission for two weeks. No flying to Indiana the next morning as scheduled to perform my show. No moving. No funny business. And, as the Boyfriend pointed out in the ER, no home cooked birthday dinner for him.
I had already planned a whole menu for the occasion that I was getting really excited about. My plan was to make one of his favorite dishes from childhood that I've always wanted to try--Bistec Empanizado, or breaded steak, served with black beans and rice, and tostones (fried plantains). I was lamenting the plight of my elbow to our friend Chef Josh (of Secret Eats fame--come back to us, Josh!) when he suggested that he could help me cook. I said, "Oh I couldn't possibly ask you to do that" a couple of times before leaping at the tantalizing offer. Of course, "helping" me cook dinner really meant cooking dinner himself while I occasionally offered to to assist in a one-handed task (there really aren't too many. That is, other than tasting, of which I did my fair share).
Our journey began at the Whole Foods in Union Square where we picked up the essentials and rolled our eyes when the produce manager explained they didn't have plantains or yucca because it's too hard to keep them. They do, however, have a full supply of Ostrich eggs at $39.99 a pop. Well thank god for that. Can you imagine how people would take to the street in protest if they were to run out??
Josh picked up some steak which he had the butcher slice thin and pound out--something I'm always shy about asking for though really that's what butchers are there for, no? When Josh informed me he already had some of the ingredients, including some whole trout from the farmers market, sausage, and heirloom tomatoes, I knew this dinner was going to be beyond anything I could imagine whipping up in my sweaty little hot box of a kitchen.
Once home I was set to work slicing peaches and hulling strawberries for a cobbler Josh wanted to throw together. So far, so good. If I lifted my left arm onto the work surface with my right I could hold down the fruit while slicing with my good hand--triumph!
When the cobbler was in the oven and the black beans brought to a boil on the stove, we set out to find some plantains and yucca. With a bodega on every corner, you'd think these wouldn't be that hard to find. WRONG. We tried every food establishment large and small from 14th to 6th and 3rd to Ave B. Nothing, despite the fact that pretty much everyone working in these stores was latin. Finally, as a last gasp on our way home, we stopped at a food emporium in Sty Town and hallelujiah--there they were.
Back at the house, I was put to work slicing and peeling the plantains for the tostones which have to be fried twice.
Meanwhile Josh cut and steamed the yucca which is just such a beautiful bright white that I've always been tempted to buy it long before I ever imagined what one might do with it. I got a great lesson on how to fry something without having it turn all greasy on you (secret is in keeping the oil hot and the object of frying circulating in the pan. That way the moisture inside the food heats up and out, keeping the oil from seeping in) while I crushed ritz crackers for the breaded steak.
Somewhere in the next hour, here's what happened:
The steak got seasoned, dredged in flour, then dipped in an egg wash to create a sticky surface for the bread crumbs which it got covered in next. Here it is frying up to perfection:
Once the oil was hot, the plantain pieces were fried, then cooled slightly, turned on their sides, and squashed into little pancakes by yours truly. Then, back into the oil they went until they were crisp and golden and impossible to keep our hand(s) off. The yucca went in next, crisped up like little squat french fries.
Josh pulled out the fish--two whole fat trout who looked like they'd just leapt out of the river about an hour ago, and happily, at that. He quickly snipped off the head and fins and threw them into a cast iron pan with a couple of sausage links.
My elbow beginning to ache, the birthday boy took over slicing some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from the greenmarket, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Then creamy blobs of ricotta were spooned on top and finished with olive oil and a chiffonade of basil (I've always wanted to use that word). Oh, and did I mention there was some leftover pulled pork? Oh yeah. We sat down to what was surely a feast about 500% bigger and more beautiful than my attempt would have been. And man oh man was it good. Here's my plate:
After making myself horizontal on the couch in an attempt to digest faster, I was handed a glass of homemade strawberry infused vodka to help it all go down a little easier. It sort of helped. Enough to allow me a few bites of the cobbler before my body began to shout NO MORE! and we rolled home to bed, our bellies full, and I for one, feeling a little less sorry for myself.
Moral of the story: How do you cook dinner with one arm tied behind your back (or slung across your front)? Get someone else to do it for you. If he happens to be a chef, and also AWESOME, that helps too.
P.S. Special love and thanks to Kate for being an awesome special lady and letting us invade her home :)
Josh's Kickass Breaded Steak: A Prose Poem by Chef Josh
The meat is Sliced Sirloin Steak (ask the butcher to pound it out).
I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper & a little sazon.*
Then to bread it I dipped it in Flour then eggwash (1 egg to 1 tbsp water ratio) then finely crushed ritz crackers.
I did this process twice to make it extra crispy.
to fry i add just enough oil to cover the bottom of a 9-10 inch pan and then added medium (to medium low) heat.
Let it get hot, then add 1 1/2 tbsps butter. Butter should melt easily but not turn brown right away.
drop the breaded steak in and let it go slowly until golden brown. flip it and repeat. mmmmmmm.
*Editor's footnote: Sazon=Goya Sazon, those little orange packets you can get at the supermarket