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Food critic Tonya Kuxhausen writes reviews of meals she prepares for herself at home. Food is at the center of each article but the whole dining experience is considered and commented on. To paraphrase Socrates, an unexamined meal is not worth eating.

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five hearts

Hitting the sauce

This was the best meal I've had all year. The puttanesca sauce was incredibly good. It was simple and delicious. We minced about ten cloves of garlic, then sautèed it all in three tablespoons of olive oil. We used Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes, which I crushed with my hands over the skillet, and added twice the capers and chopped olives. I added a little salt, a small handful of crushed red pepper flakes and some freshly ground black pepper. We let it simmer for about 10 minutes while the pasta cooked. In the meantime, I washed and chopped the lettuce while my friend chopped the fresh tomatoes for the salad.

The Menu (1-8-03)

hors d'oeuvres: Pirate's Booty
aperitif: Trentino Merlot
salade: Romaine Lettuce with Tomatoes and Sesame Lime Dressing
entrèe: Organic Penne with Puttanesca Sauce
dessert: Mint Milanos

During all the prep work, we drank like fish. My friend was totally drunk before the garlic hit the pan, and I was kind of buzzed and dizzy when I stood up to stir the sauce. We hadn't planned this! It was really fun. My friend had brought an Italian merlot, which was pretty good. It was dark and tangy and I was drunk after one glass. I opened a bag of Pirate's Booty to offset the wine, though the airy puffs hardly did that. We ate almost the whole bag. I like sucking the puffs and letting them dissolve slowly in my mouth rather than chewing on handfuls like my friend did. I think the slower you eat them, the more salty and cheesy they taste. They feel like Styrofoam and they remind me of Earl's Curls, which have a special place in my heart.

I had just a small helping of penne and encouraged my friend to eat the rest, since dinner was his first meal of the day. The pasta was done to perfection, and the sauce was "fucking awesome," my friend said. I was enraptured with it. It was zesty and tantalizing, with the sensual heaviness of the olive oil underneath. The organic tomatoes were flavorful and pretty, enlivened with the salty kalamatas and uniquely spicy capers. I was surprised it wasn't more garlicky, though that was the primary aroma in the house. I just kept eating sauce. With every bite I so enjoyed being drunk. It quieted the internal noise, and allowed me to focus on the solitary pleasures of taste. My friend and I didn't talk much. He just kept saying, "Oh my God this is good!"

He ate his salad before the pasta, but I forced it down after all the sauce. I could hardly taste the sesame lime dressing because my mouth was kind of burning from the spicy puttanesca. I probably wouldn't have eaten it if I didn't feel like I needed some leafy greens. I ate it but can't say I enjoyed it that much. The dressing smelled good.

Mint Milanos were for dessert. My friend ate them all, which was just as well because I couldn't stop obsessing about the sauce. I had another helping of it because I wanted that delicious flavor to be the last thing I tasted. I highly, highly recommend puttanesca. Get a taste of the sauce!