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Hearty Cravings, Sometimes Unfulfilled

16 July, 2014 10:16 AM
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"I lick the cheese off Doritos and put them back in the bag," she said. "I will eat pretty much anything as long as it's salty. Or sweet. Or spicy."

Teigen is that rare thing, a model who eats. And eats and eats and eats, according to constant posts on Twitter, Instagram and her blog, So Delushious!

"This picture just got me pregnant," she once wrote, lusting after a house-cured pork belly she helped make during a three-week intensive cooking course.

Teigen, 28, is one of the funniest and unlikeliest voices about food on Twitter, where her audience is approaching half a million people; she has more than 700,000 followers on Instagram. Her popularity is probably due first to her appearance in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; this year, she was its first Asian-American cover model. Also driving her social media profile is her longtime relationship with singer John Legend; they married last fall.

From their travels and honeymoon in Italy, she posts images of pasta, whole fish and gelato. But in daily life, she's just as likely to put up a beauty shot of a Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse or of the packets of Cholula hot sauce that she orders in bulk, or a video of herself drunkenly eating Cheetos right off the upholstery of her sofa.

It's probably those last items that earned her a judge spot on MTV's new cooking competition show, "Snack-Off." Amateur cooks vie to invent a credible snack, using only leftovers and junk food, for maximum appeal to a young audience that is stoned or lazy, or both. (The main ingredients in the first episode were marshmallows, vienna sausages, popcorn and beef jerky.) In "Top Chef" terms, Teigen plays Padma Lakshmi to the chef Eddie Huang's Tom Colicchio - but there the similes end, since the contestants are so unskilled that making popcorn without a microwave qualifies as an insurmountable challenge.

"I'm the farthest thing from a foodie or a food snob," she said. "Those people terrify me."

But she has great respect for the work of chefs, a high tolerance for chili heat (her mother is Thai) and a terrific appetite for variety. Her last meal, she said, would be the unlimited dim sum at Sense, the Cantonese restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. "Hopefully I could eat myself to death," she said.

Models are famous for claiming in interviews that they regularly indulge in doughnuts and In-N-Out burgers. But the punishingly low body mass index demanded by the fashion industry doesn't allow for many indulgences and prompts skepticism. Social media like Instagram has become a forum for "thin-shaming" posts, calling out stick-thin models and celebrities who say they eat "normally" and claim that they never exercise.

Teigen more often experiences the opposite: Anonymous commenters remark on her "fat" face and "weird" looks. "Putting on that weight momma," one follower said after she posted recent shots from an MTV appearance. She tends to fire back with spirit (and profanity), earning herself even more loyal fans.

Let the record show that Teigen didn't pretend to eat much at a recent lunch, as she was about to put on a tight orange lace minidress for the awards ceremony of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She clearly knew her way around the estimable Bash Burger at Lure Fishbar (served on a potato bun, topped with a caramelized onion and bacon jam, American cheese and shaved pickles) but ate exactly one king crab leg and one sushi hand roll.

"I am a nutritionist's nightmare," she said. She admits that when she is working (for example, when she appeared on the June cover of Cosmopolitan or was gearing up for a Victoria's Secret catalog shoot), she eats virtually nothing.

"Some models survive the time without food by living on coffee and cigarettes," she said. "For me it's red wine and cookbooks." But in between, she prowls new restaurants (the lasagna verde, a Thursday special at Frank in New York City, is a favorite), is a regular at Taco Bell and binges on ribs and ramen.

Many of Teigen's cooking narratives seem to have been posted when Legend is touring and she's home in Los Angeles, passing the time with a bottle of wine and a cooking project like deviled eggs, seared scallops or eggless Caesar salad dressing. Or seriously not-on-a-diet, opposite-of-Gwyneth-Paltrow recipes, like "cream cheese stuffed jalapeño peppers with bacon and sausage and unicorns and fairies and vodka wait no vodka but everything else good in the world."

Fortunately for the 5-foot-8 Teigen, she occupies a niche in the fashion industry reserved for "curvy girls": swimwear model. She was hired to stand around in black lingerie in Legend's 2006 video for "Stereo," and the two have been together ever since.

Teigen father, Ron, is Norwegian-American; her mother, Vilaluck, is Thai. She grew up in Snohomish, Washington, where there was not even a Thai restaurant, much less a market to buy jasmine rice and curry paste. "Even in Seattle, you couldn't buy green papayas then," she said. "My mom kind of gave up and learned to cook corned beef and cabbage instead."

Teigen didn't start cooking until well after she'd left home, and she's still cautious about attempting her mother's Thai recipes. She has, however, mastered jok moo, a long-simmered rice soup with savory pork meatballs and aromatic toppings of fresh ginger, scallion, cilantro and chilies. Leela Punyaratabandhu, the author of "Simple Thai Cooking," said that the creaminess of the rice, the bite of the fresh ginger and the tender bounciness of the pork meatballs pull the dish together into a craveable, eat-it-every-day breakfast.

Punyaratabandhu, who lives in Bangkok, said that Teigen was also something of a celebrity in Thailand, although more because of her marriage to Legend than in her own right. "To speak for myself, I think she is adorable, and I admire her wit and candor," Punyaratabandhu wrote in an email. "Chrissy is someone who speaks her mind. I wouldn't say any of this has to do with her being of Thai heritage, however."

1. Make the meat mixture: Pound or grind the garlic, cilantro and white pepper together into a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and add the pork, oyster sauce and soy sauce. Mix well, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Make the soup: In a large heavy pot, combine the rice and stock and bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping up any starch from the bottom to prevent scorching. Add 2 cups hot water and simmer 30 minutes more. Add another 2 cups hot water and simmer 20 to 30 minutes more, until the rice begins to fall apart in the soup.

3. From the refrigerator, remove the dumpling mixture and the eggs, if using. Heat your serving bowls. Adjust the heat under the soup so that it bubbles gently. Pinch off pieces of the meat mixture to make bite-size balls, dropping them one at a time into the soup. When all of the meatballs have firmed up and turned opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes after adding the last one, the soup is ready.

4. To serve, scoop a ladleful of soup into a bowl. Crack one egg, if using, into the bowl. Gently ladle more hot soup over the raw egg, covering it completely. After about 4 minutes, the eggs will be softly cooked. Dust each bowl with chili powder and sprinkle with ginger, scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately, passing fish sauce and sriracha at the table. Each diner breaks the egg yolk and scoops up the egg with the soup.

Note: Use a very light-bodied chicken stock. If using prepared or canned broth or bouillon cubes, dilute with water until the salt and chicken flavors are very mild.

1. Make the meat sauce: Heat a large heavy pot over high heat. When the pan is hot, add meat and cook, stirring to break up chunks, until any liquid has evaporated and the meat starts to fry in its own fat. Use a sturdy spoon and scrape the bottom often, to prevent burning.

2. When meat is golden and crusty, 10 to 15 minutes, add carrots, onions and celery. Keep stirring and scraping over medium-high heat.

3. When vegetables have softened and meat is dark brown, reduce heat to low and pour in white wine. Scrape all the drippings up from the bottom of the pot. Add milk, stock and tomato paste, bring to a simmer and mix the sauce until smooth.

4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add bay leaves and sage and cook until meat is very soft and sauce is thick, about 30 minutes more. Set aside, or cool and refrigerate up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature or warm before using.

5. Make the béchamel sauce: In a heavy saucepan, melt butter until bubbly. Sprinkle flour on the butter and cook, stirring, until it smells buttery and turns golden.

6. Whisking vigorously over medium heat, slowly pour in milk and whisk until mixture starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Keep whisking and cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes: the sauce should be thick and smooth, with no floury taste. Set aside, or cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature or warm before using; whisk in more milk if necessary to make a texture like thin mayonnaise. Transfer to a pastry bag or thick sealable plastic bag.

7. Make the pasta: If using kale, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the type, age and thickness of the kale. Using a slotted spoon, lift out kale and drain well, reserving cooking water. In a food processor, purée kale, trickling in cooking water if needed to make a smooth purée. Scrape pure into a strainer and let drain. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Set aside.

8. In a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine all ingredients and mix just until a dough forms. Immediately wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

9. When ready to make the lasagna, unwrap the dough and place on a floured surface. It should be pliable but not wet or sticky; if necessary, divide in two and knead in more flour. If dry, knead in water a little at a time.

10. Cut the dough into about 16 pieces, sprinkle each one with flour, and lay out two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with flour. Using a pasta machine, roll out each piece of the dough according to the manufacturer's instructions into sheets about 3 to 4 inches wide, until it is as thin as possible without bubbling or tearing. Place finished sheets in a single layer on the prepared pans. Keep covered with damp paper towels.

11. Bring kale cooking water back to a boil (or, if not using kale, bring a large pot of water to a boil). Cook pasta one or two sheets at a time, just until it floats to the top of the pot. Return to paper-lined pans to drain.

12. Assemble the lasagna: Bring a small saucepan with about 2 inches of olive oil to a simmer and line a plate with paper towels. Working in 4 or 5 batches, add the sage leaves and fry just until crisp and golden, about 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sage to paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt.

13. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a roasting pan, about 14 x 17 inches x 3 inches. There should be room to stack three or four layers of ingredients.

14. Cover the bottom of the pan with sheets of pasta. Cover the pasta with a thin layer of meat sauce. Snip off a corner or open a small-size tip of the bag with the bechamel and drizzle the sauce in an abstract pattern over the meat sauce (think Jackson Pollock). Scatter a layer of both cheeses on top. Scatter basil leaves and fried sage leaves on top. Repeat with remaining ingredients, ending with cheese and herbs on top.

15. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, then with aluminum foil. Bake until lasagna is piping hot inside and bubbling up, 20 to 40 minutes depending on starting temperature of ingredients. (The internal temperature should be at least 140 degrees.)

16. Remove plastic wrap and foil, raise temperature to 450 degrees (or turn on the broiler or convection function) and bake another few minutes, until top is golden brown, crusty with cheese and bubbling around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool at least 30 minutes on a rack before cutting and serving.

Note: If you can't make your own pasta, you can find fresh white or green pasta dough at many supermarkets and pasta shops, or online. You'll need 2 to 2 1/2 pounds fresh pasta. For online ordering, there is usually a minimum of 3 to 5 pounds, but the pasta freezes well. If using dried lasagna, try to buy rough-textured noodles from Italy, and boil just until al dente. They will cook further in the lasagna.


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