Friday, December 17, 2010

Adventures of a Kitchen Slave, Pt. 8, Sauce on the Side

SOS...I cringe upon seeing those 3 letters on the ticket, my brows instantly furrowing with judgement. Sauce on the side, how boring. I picture the person ordering...finicky, a face that looks like they are smelling bad cheese, allergic to gluten, lactose and garlic (no, you cant be allergic to garlic). Everybody has an opinion, and I have alot of them when it comes to food. So, this is my sauce on the unapologetic opinions on all things edible.

Eat your vegetables.
Ok, maybe kids don't like veggies, but it is unacceptable to eat like a 7 year old for the rest of your life.

Curse those Sunkist people.
They stamp each & every lemon with a green Sunkist logo, just so I can scrape it off with my knife before using it. How wonderful to eat food completely void of labels and know, the kind you get a the farmers market, or even better, grow yourself!

My server friends are not going to like this, but there is a sense of superiority (think, swagger) that goes along with actually producing the product to be sold. It's kind of like being nice to the bartender. "You will just have to wait for it. I make the goods, you just run them from the kitchen to the customer."

It is not ok to create your own menu items.
Complicated requests, items pieced together from different entrees, requests for alternate cooking methods, etc. are not appreciated. Try this in your own kitchen!

The tactile part of cooking is a huge part of the fun for me. I detest the gloves we are required to wear at all times, hotel policy. It is, however, industry practice to use them when touching prepared foods, but not all the time. I do understand that not everybody cleans under their fingernails as compulsively as I do (where btw, most of the bacteria on your hands reside). Eww. Fine, keep the gloves.

Eat real food, not edible food-like substances (thanks Michael Pollan). I will always choose real sugar over the blue/pink/yellow packets, real apples over apple juice, real butter over margarine, or even SmartButter (a vegan butter, which is actually pretty good).

It's called Insatiable Appetite for a reason.
People are starting to notice that I'm always eating, or cooking, or hungry. Co-workers note that I never seem to turn down a taste of something they're working on, a leftover prime rib from the holiday banquet, a smudged Chocolate Decadence dessert...kinda makes up for the fact that they pay me in peanuts.

Cooking for strangers, still fun. Cooking for loved ones, priceless.
This has been the gift of the holidays...time together, eating. Why not elevate the food, make it special. Need not be too fancy, or time consuming, but I'm talking about food as love. A big ohana dinner, or a quiet night at home, I feel nourished from the inside out. I love you everybody! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Adventures of a Kitchen Slave, pt 7, How to cook your life

Lately, I've been seeing things differently. I touch so many things in a day, I can't help but look closer and ponder. My hands get a chance to truly be hands, to create something, kneading dough...forming something from seemingly nothing. I find myself enchanted by the beauty in organic ingredients, the abundance of colors and patterns that can be found occurring naturally in the world around us. Peeling a case of baby corn takes me back to childhood summers in Virginia. My brothers & I would run through the corn fields, playing hide & seek. Our faces and arms would be covered in scratches after, but we didn't mind. Harvest season meant lots of work, and my nimble little fingers were perfect for shucking corn. Turns out, they still are. I love slicing a ripe papaya, the smell of the islands wafting out. Scooping out the seeds, I am amazed at this plants clever method of procreating. Its beauty is nothing short of perfection. Last week, we received a shipment for a fish special...Opaka paka. Basically, a Hawaiian pink snapper, its a great choice for sustainable fishing, as the fishery is carefully managed, stocks are healthy, and the fishing gear used does not cause significant habitat destruction. I was astonished by this creature. Shimmery & pink, with pearly opalescent scales...magnificent.

Repetitive tasks can be soothing after a while, with the hands busy the brain has time to consider other things. To my readers, I promise this will be the last time that I mention my nemesis, the tomato concasse. After coring & blanching these bloody tomatoes, I peel away the skin of each, revealing the flesh underneath, destined to become a gorgeous tomato petal. While repeating this step for every tomato in the crate, I realize that some come out perfectly. The skin peels back in one effortless motion, revealing the smooth flesh, ready to achieve Chef's final vision. Some tomatoes are less cooperative. They just refuse! The skin clings and tears, and the result is not only more time consuming, but also less appealing. Hands busy, mind wandering, I realize that sometimes I'm like one of those stubborn tomatoes. I'm hanging on to some old habits, parts of a former life, instead of shedding my skin for new growth. Silently, I remind myself to be one of the cooperative tomatoes.

While usually painfully aware of the things I need to work on, I realize that I must be doing something right. These days, I see so much beauty in the world, things that I was missing too often before, and this fills my heart with gratitude and love. It's all around me for my viewing, smelling and tasting pleasure. It's all delicious!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the pleasure factory

Labor Day means the first day off that Ry & I have had together since June. A reason for celebration, we enjoy a day of decadence...doing whatever (and only!) what our hearts desire. Of course, food is one of our favorite pleasures. The evening consisted of tapas style food: little bites of things intermingled with laughs, wine, and boardgames.

Course #1: Figs with bleu cheese wrapped in prosciutto, baked at 400F until the cheese is melty, and the prosciutto is browned.

Course #2:
A perfect example of letting the ingredients inspire! Ryan brought home the most beautiful HUGE heirloom tomatoes from the San Clemente farmer's market. "We have to do something to show how ridiculously large they are!", my first response. The result, a tomato tower: layers of Heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, crispy fried onion straws, layers of spinach & arugula, drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and meyer lemon olive oil.

Course #3:
An adaptation of something I make everyday at work: Mussels with bacon & pesto. Bacon, rendering fat, deglaze pan with white wine. Add pesto & cream to steam mussels. Serve with crusty french bread...dipping the bread into the sauce is almost better than the mussels themselves!

An affirmation that I am pursuing my true passion, I am happy to cook all day on my only day off. Well, almost all day :)

Follow your bliss

Time off is a chance to get back to what I love. Cooking just for the joy of it, making whatever tickles my fancy. My loved ones are the best audience...not there to judge, just to enjoy and say "thank you."

Our first family dinner was the coming out party for our new home! Music & laughter echoing, delicious smells wafting from the windows, it truly felt like our home. Unable to accommodate 7 people at our dinner table (2 seater now), we decided to have a picnic in our cute little yard. The food was inspired by the setting.

The menu:
Fresh fruit from the farmer's market: melon, strawberries, blackberries (something to snack on as soon as you get there, KEY!)
Fried green tomato BLT's (I love BLT's, and LOVE to make them gourmet style!), each wrapped in parchment paper, like a little present you cant wait to unwrap!
Pineapple Cole Slaw (using an adaptation to my work recipe, using creme fraiche instead of mayo)
Mango Sage Honey Panna Cotta & farmer's market berries (so easy, and delicious!)
This was the kind of evening where no photos were snapped of the food before diving in. Living in the moment, just eat. No need to wait.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave, pt 6. I work the line

Sunday 8/22/10
The end of the busy workweek is here! I'm already looking forward to Monday, my only day off. I dare not add up the hours in the last workweek, as I know I have blown past the 60 hour mark. The chef asks, "can you come in on wednesday?" I know that this will mean 4 double duty days in a row (8:30-1:30 @ Gymbo, 2:30-11:00 in the kitchen). "Absolutely", I reply. The opportunities just keep on knocking...It is up to me to find the motivation to tackle them. I had no idea what surprises Wednesday had in store for me.
Wednesday 8/25/10
Venti Starbucks down, I was feeling ready for another exciting day of dicing & slicing. "Let me see your burn!", I'm commanded by the chef upon walking in. How does he even know about that? Someone told him. Someone told him "everything" little blog included. Oh no...they aren't going to buy my "nice girl" act anymore?! No way, those days are behind me. Turns out, the head chef thought my tough attitude was pretty "hard core" and furthermore "bad ass". In fact, this turns out to be the reason he wants me, yes ME!, to be his new line cook. I swallow the lump in my throat, and give myself a silent pep talk. I can do this. I can do this, right?

That night, I am trained on the pizza station, but it produces alot more than pizza. A small pizza oven, 6 burners & a flat top grill, this station churns out mussels, cioppino, crab cakes, salmon sandwiches, ahi clubs, veggie clubs, crab quesadillas, and seafood pastas. It's also responsible for making some of the kid food...pepperoni pizza, pasta marinara, grilled cheese (which will always remind me of my Dad. He made the BEST grilled cheese. If we were lucky, ham & cheese. In my mind, he might have well have been friggin Escoffier). The sous chef tells me that they used to call this the Bistro station. I will now refer to it as the LBistro station :)

I could see the surprise in their eyes. I could FEEL the surprise in my bones! I OWNED this station! Making details notes to my menu, I learned how to create every one of these dishes, along with tips for time management. Unsure of what to expect, I exceeded my every intention. This station is my bitch! For the next 4 days, I felt it an honor and a privilege to own this little part of the kitchen. No longer having to ask, what can I help you with (not to imply that I won't lend my help to others), I love having something to be responsible for. I am toasted with my favorite treats to a job well done. I skip off to get something. "Did you just skip?", someone says. They don't know that Ryan calls me Skipper, something I tend to do when I'm excited. "Ok, you have to stop being giddy", the Chef says. "Line cooks aren't giddy. They are MAD, and their anger motivates them." This one is giddy, and may be for quite some time. They will just have to get used to that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave pt. 5, Awareness of the cycle

We are all on a spiral path. No growth takes place in a straight line. There will be setbacks along the way... There will be shadows, but they will be balanced by patches of light and fountains of joy as we grow and progress. Awareness of the pattern is all you need to sustain you along the way.

I wanted to cry and go home. Last friday, I managed to screw up everything I touched. Feeling crappy, preoccupied with my upcoming move to a new house, run down from my hectic schedule, my head was not in the game. I tried unsuccessfully to institute some self-imposed attitude adjustments throughout my shift. My incompetence persisted. When searing some mahi mahi steaks for a banquet, I forgot to season them with salt & pepper?!?! What is wrong with me?? When flipping the sheet tray of fish onto the grill (la plancha), the tray hit a basket of blanching water, splashing water onto the grill & the fish. Result? No sear, more of a steaming method :( The tomato concasse that I spent all afternoon on burned in the oven. I had mistaken the a speck of dust for the dot on the temperature dial (these ovens are so old...the speck & the dot look almost identical) and the tomatoes burned within 30 minutes. I returned from my break to find my tomatoes crispy and charred. Just so you can share in my pain, let me recap the process of tomato concasse (french cooking 101). Start with a crate of tomatoes (large volumes of food are becoming common to me now). They are first cored, and small X shape slits are cut on the bottom...not piercing the meat of the tomato, just the skin. Next they are blanched in boiling water (just enough for the skin to peel away easily, but not cooking the tomato). After cooling in an ice bath, I peel each one. Then, they are quartered and seeded, leaving petal-shaped pieces. They are then lined up on sheet pans lined with parchment paper (this was enough for 4 large sheet trays) and sprinkled with chopped garlic, shallots, and thyme. Olive oil is drizzled lightly on top. They should roast at 250 F for about an hour. This whole process took up about 2.5 hours of my afternoon. In my frustration over my burned tomatoes, I burned my arm too (the burn resembles a cyclops smiley face). Instead of applying ice or burn cream, I decided to leave the burn as a reminder to double check the temperate (masochist streak?). Carrying the trays of tomatoes to the trash can, one of the cooks says "Crispy!", I grumble something in return. Did you just say "f@*ck you?" he says? No, but I thought it. That night, walking to my car, feeling defeated, I was reminded of the above quote from Ano Ano. On so many nights I have practically skipped back to my car on my cloud of self-congratulation. This is all part of the cycle. Awareness of the cycle will sustain me.

Fast forward a few days, my outlook is improving. I learn how to fabricate lamb...taking the rack down the bone (this is called "frenching"). The result is like a lamb lollipop. The sous chef says "I think you have a natural aptitude for this cooking stuff". My heart swells with pride from this one little, well-timed compliment. Later, I get the chance to practice my new skill. Sadly, the owner of the hotel passed away, losing his battle with cancer. His memorial and reception (at the hotel) means huge numbers of people to feed. I stay there until 1:30am the night before, hands aching, prepping rack after rack of lamb (enough to feed the expected 800 people). I never met the owner (heard he was quite the foodie), but I consider this hard work my simple tribute to him. The weekend, with the memorial service, the 2 restaurants still open for business, and a previously scheduled wedding at the hotel, was an incredible production. New faces filled the kitchen, chefs and former employees there to help for the day. It was an amazing thing to be a part of. This huge effort...loads of preparation, mountains of cheese and fruit, tray after tray of canapes, boatloads of food! The result was a sort of controlled chaos, but from outside the kitchen you would have never known. At the end of the night the chef gathers the few remaining employees around. "Are you guys proud of yourselves?", he asks. "Because I am proud of you!" The cycle has come full circle. Yep, I'm pretty proud of me too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave pt. 4, That which shall not be named

"Buzz buzz", says my alarm clock. It can't possibly be right, I just set this clock 5 hours ago? "Good morning love, how do you feel?" I am so tired. It's the only response I can muster. I have never worked this hard in my life, hands down. My new schedule rages at an unrelenting pace. In one week, I work in 3 different Gymboree sites, plus the Hotel gig. I've found myself sitting at the top of my street, pondering which way to turn...where am I going? Last week, I completely forgot that I was driving a stick shift, embarrassingly stalling out at a stop light (In my defense, this car is still new to me). My social life is laughable in comparison to its glory days, but my beloved friends often send home goodie bags consisting of family dinner leftovers and my favorite treats. My 30 minute break from the kitchen has become catch-up hour for Ry & I, condensing the day into a quick conversation, while I chew noisily and talk with my mouth full on the other end. When I finally cross the finish line into my house, it's time to shower off the funk and pop my kitchen scrubs into the washer (as I only have 1 set!). The dryer will have to wait until the morning. Even in my exhaustion, it takes a while for my busy brain to wind down at the end of the night. I realize that late night food tv is often aimed at men...Man vs Food (when did watching gluttons gorge themselves become entertainment?), Diners Drive-ins & Dives...I find myself channeling Anthony Bourdain here. "What did Guy Fieri ever do to me?" Can't help it, don't like it.

A big believer in the law of attraction, I realize that declaring my tiredness (muy cansada!) every morning is not helping me. Ryan & I begin to refer to it as "that which shall not be named." It's still there, I'm just not talking about it.

Despite that which shall not be named, my hunger for culinary knowledge grows. More live lobsters die at my hands, more tomatoes are diced in pico de gallo (at accelerating speeds!), 10 dozen oysters are shucked, shrimp are poached in a court bouillon, pizza dough whirls around the dough hook of a ridiculously large mixer...all before break. Tomato concasse (which I'm pretty sure translates to "pain in the ass") were covered in a culinary lab, but have now become a daily routine. Mastery through repetition. I try to tackle every job with determination, big or small, glamorous or not (often, not). Some co-workers still seemed surprised by the little-blonde-girl-that-could (Laurita...roll the "r"...has become my new nickname). They try to carry all the heavy items for me. They don't know how strong I am. Honestly, until recently, I didn't either.

Monday, July 12, 2010

from kitchen slave to executive chef in 1 day

Thank you universe! Yesterday was a gift. Yawning as I turn off the alarm, I make my morning pilgrimage to the coffee pot. Sunday mornings used to be my favorite. As I leave for work, Ryan is contemplating a walk to the farmer's market. It feels like he's cheating on me. The drive to Laguna Beach is beautiful, the first sunny day in weeks. "I wonder what exciting this is going to happen today?", I think to myself. The multiple fire engines and police cars on pacific coast highway were my first clue. A main transformer (Ryan thinks it was a Decepticon) blew, causing a power outage for much of Laguna. It's not until today that I realize the kitchen of Hotel Laguna is kinda like the outside light. Sternos were aglow on all the counters. I was promptly issued a flashlight and told not to go anywhere without it. I helped to put the food on ice, clean the eerily dark kitchen while balancing a flashlight, and fill bowls with pretzels and snacks for hungry guests & employees at the front desk and bar. Someone radios that it's going to be 3hrs before CalTrans even arrives at the scene. The chef says he "hates to do this to me" and sends me home. I try to act disappointed. I skip back to my car, and promptly drive back to San Clemente, where the power is on, the sun is out!, and my amazing fiance has packed the house with fresh local food.

There are so many hidden gems in San Clemente. Oliver's is one of my favorite. Specializing in high-end oils and vinegars, its a foodie paradise. The 18yr. aged Balsalmic Vinegar is syrupy sweet, perfect with these heirloom beauties. San Clemente wine company is, conveniently, across the street. Owners Rachel & Barney help us pair wines with our menu ideas...its almost too easy.

On a trip to the farmer's market, the dishes kinda create themselves as I walk up and down the rows. Letting the ingredients inspire me, its also a fun chance to try something new, use an ingredient that is completely foreign to me. This time, my personal shopper, Rybo, came home with purslane. Purslane is commonly considered a weed in the U.S. A succulent, it is rich in omega-3 fatty acid and several dietary vitamins. It can be used raw in salads, or cooked very similar to spinach. I can only describe the taste as "planty."

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Oliver's aged balsalmic vinegar, homegrown basil, and goat cheese, kosher salt & pepper. The taste of summer in one bite!

A walk to Billy's Deli on Del Mar led to the most beautiful Opah for our Sunday night dinner, crusted in a Meyer lemon olive oil. The corn & pepper relish is a favorite...grilled Anaheim pepper, sweet corn just cut from the cob (the milky juices are key in this dish), bell pepper and topped with avocado. Butter brings this corn & pepper classic together...also, key. Sauteed purslane with garlic & shallots cooked up in minutes, deliciously good for you.

The best summer desserts require no baking at all. This panna cotta uses Mango Sage honey from VR Green Farms right here in San Clemente. This honey (aka: candy) is good enough on its own, but I've been toying with this panna cotta notion for a while now. Creamy & custardlike, Nigela Lawson says it should "jiggle like a 17th century courtesan's inner thigh." With that, Ryan was already asking for seconds. The berries, also from the market, are at their peak...I love summer fruit :)

The kitchen slave gets to play executive chef for the day. It was so fun to revisit my own culinary food (mostly plants), as close to the food source as possible, harvested at its peak season, delicious to the taste buds and nourishing to the body.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave pt. 3, La Tortuga

Let the record show, I fancy myself a progressive. Largely devoid of social stereotypes and presumptions based on appearances, I try not to judge (lest I BE judged). "Mouthbreathers" are the one exception. In my experience, those who breath through their mouth instead of their nose (except during times of infirmity) are some of the slowest (physically & mentally) individuals you will ever encounter. I, somewhat, shamefully tell you that I consider this a sign of "lower" intelligence. Oh universe, must you make me so tragically aware of every time I renig on my personal truths? As a kitchen slave, I find myself asked to complete incredibly repetitive tasks tasks on a daily basis. I'm learning, the fastest way to execute these tasks is an "assembly line" basis. Complete each singular step in the task of cutting, say, an onion. Cut off the tops, and tails of each. Then, cut each in half. Next, complete the steps for dicing (as taught in Culinary Principles #1) for each onion in the bushel. Head down, I channel the focus of a factory fast as possible! Fast forward hour, a co-worker tells me its almost time to close down the kitchen, and I should leave my project (incomplete!) to assist them with the evening's cleaning. "How could this be?" I find myself working at turtle speed (my Spanish is improving..."si, la tortuga!"), mouth-open (trying to avoid the tears that come with cutting onions when breathing through one's nose) to complete a single task my coworkers seem to complete at mind-blowing speed. Yes, we've come full circle. I can only hope that I learn a small bit of compassion during my time as a mouth-breathing turtle.

The next day, I get the opportunity to really COOK something for the restaurant (ie: not just cutting vegetable to their appropriate lengths, but rather, apply a elevated temperature for the proper time). Asked to cook 15 two-and-a-half pound Maine lobsters for the July 4th holiday, I welcome the opportunity. I'm not intimidated by these claw-bearing crustaceans. I've sent many lobsters to their end, dipping these pleading, squirming lobs into their steaming oblivion. Yet, I felt the need to "thank" each of these living beings before sinking them into their final poaching liquid. Similar to the feeling when I cook (and eat!)protein..."Thank for giving your life. I hope your delicious." The rule of thumb cooking time is 8 minutes in full boiling water. After cooling in an ice bath, I proceed to take out my every frustration on these poor lobsters, breaking them down with the back of a meat cleaver and a pair of kitchen shears. Standing there covered in shell bits and puke green tamale, I embarrassingly admit to you, "I've never been happier." And, I mean it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave, pt. 2

Day 2:
Any disappointment in not getting to employ my knife skills on my first day has been thoroughly obliterated. Asked to make 2 gallons of pico de gallo, I know just what to gather from the walk-in: ripe tomatoes, Serrano chilies, fresh cilantro, juicy limes and yellow onions. Only the amounts needed are laughable compared to the usual amounts needed in my home kitchen. I return with a crate (yes, a crate!) of Roma tomatoes. In the next hour, I grow to hate these tomatoes. All tomatoes, actually. They are notoriously hard to cut. Soft flesh covered by a waxy skin, tomatoes are a good test for any sharp knife. At some point during this project, I question sharing my ability to make kick-ass pico (a favorite in my house), for fear that they will deem me the official pico-de-gallo maker. The kitchen seems oddly quiet, so quietly hum to myself an anti-tomato tune.
Aiming to never be idle, I make a habit of asking the cooks on the line what prep I can help them with. Someone says they need salmon portioned out for that night's service. "How's your fish fabrication", someone asks. "Um, ok?", I think. Let the record show that I have portioned many-a salmon filet in my home kitchen, but the thought of doing it here instantly caused my cheeks to flush, my face pulsing with heat. Like a true rookie, I left my filet knife at home (hey, I didn't even get to use a knife on my last shift!), but luckily a sympathetic co-worker helped me out. I meticulously searched for bones...I will just DIE if someone sends their salmon back tonight after choking on a bone. I trim the fish (a little too much, in retrospect), and begin to attempt eye-balling 7oz. portions. The scale doesn't lie...some diners got lucky that night (8oz portions), some less fortunate (<7oz). Searching for approval, I ask one of the cook's how my filets look..."ok", he replies and shrugs. A lifelong perfectionist, this will not work for me. "No really", I say, "I don't want to F anything up, please tell me what I can do better!". He says he will help me, but I have to say fuck. Oh my, I'm not at Gymboree anymore! I oblige him. "Well, your cuts could be a little straighter."
Within a few hours, this quiet kitchen is transformed...via Ipod! Each playlist seems to bring a new flavor to the kitchen. These line cooks, while hustling, begin to sing and dance! The clatter of pots & pans, knives tapping on the cutting boards, the ticking of the printer tape spitting out new was like culinary STOMP! The restaurant manager tells me he can "moonwalk in kitchen clogs." I knew I liked these people.

Adventures of a kitchen slave

This is an adventure tale. After 2 semesters of culinary school, I finally found someone willing to let my inexperienced (but enthusiastic) booty into their kitchen. As of last Thursday, I am the newest intern at Hotel Laguna and their two food service operations. The Terrace is an oceanfront lounge serving classic California cuisine. Claes is their fine dining establishment, featuring panoramic ocean views from the dining room. "Be bold, and the mighty forces will come to your aid". This is the advice that my wonderful fiance offered me to calm the nerves of my first day. Hands trembling, I tried to put this advice into action. I'm not sure what I expected, but these rough-looking kitchen people turned out to be extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Before my shift, I sharpened my favorite Wustof chef's knife (aka: my baby) to a razor-sharp edge, ready to hone my cutting skills. I didn't get to cut a single thing. Instead, I spent the first 3 hours organizing the walk-in refrigerator, stacking and labeling shelves of ripe berries, an abundance of leafy green vegetables, and my favorite...a wall of assorted cheeses. I found the 35 degree temperature to be a refreshing change from the sweaty kitchen, until my shoe came untied and my frozen fingers were completely incapable of doing anything about it. One of the cooks entered, and through my broken spanish (and his proficient english), we exchanged introductions. He collected his necessary food items, and I'm pretty sure told me that I was the color of white asparagus. "Blanca" I said sarcastically, instantly picturing myself as Nancy Botwin from Weeds. "It's a beautiful color", he added, as he smiled and left. Later, I was offered a tutorial on the best way to sweep the floor. One of the cook's told me the head chef used to help out the custodial staff at the private school he attended. I could tell he was editing this story (aka leaving out the good stuff), but the advice was to sweep with 2 short strokes, followed by a sweeping motion. It left me doing a little shuffle around the kitchen, push-push-sweep. I can't wait until everyone is comfortable enough to tell me the good stuff...the full story. That night, I float home on a cloud of self-congratulation. At 30, I'm making steps to follow my passion.

Friday, April 16, 2010

French onion soup...deliciously DOable!!

French Onion Soup
Butter or oil 2 oz.
Onions, julienne 2 lbs.
red wine 4 oz
brown stock 1 quart
chicken stock 1 quart
sachet (1 clove garlic, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs parsley, 1 tsp. dried thyme) tied up in cheesecloth & kitchen twine
round crouton (stale bread rolls)
Gruyere cheese (sliced or grated)
Heat a heavy bottomed soup pot until smoking hot. Add butter/oil and onions. Onions should begin to brown immediately. Stir with a wooden spoon until onions are deep brown, but not burnt. Don't let onions or the caramelized residue stick to the bottom of the pot. Add wine, let reduce by half. Add stocks, and sachet. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until soup is rich & flavorful, season to taste with salt & pepper.
For the croutons:
Use stale rolls, slice round slices about 1/4-1/2 inches thick. Brush with butter or oil and place on sheet pan. Toast in the oven @ 300 F until fully crispy and lightly browned.
For service:
Preheat broiler. For one portion, fill an onion soup crock to the top with soup (about 10oz). Place croutons on top of soup, cover with sliced cheese, and place bowl on small sheet pan. Brown the cheese under broiler, SERVE!!
The best french onion soups are cooked over many hours, but in class we made this soup in about 1 hour, and it was still delicious!!Obviously, we used homemade stocks. But, feel free to supplement your store bought stocks or broths with bouillon or stock base to beef up the flavor in store-bought products. I have also made this soup with canned beef consume or even canned french onion soup...add caramelized onions to anything...and it will be delicious!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter: lingering over lunch

A celebration of all of the blessings in my life...fabulous food with some of my favorite people. The menu:
Radishes with sweet pea puree
Saute 1 clove minced garlic in olive oil (about 2 oz) until golden. Add one stem of tarragon and 10 oz peas. Cook & stir about 6 more minutes until softened. Slightly cool, and place in food processor. Pulse until smooth. Add 1 Tbs more fresh tarragon, season w/ salt & pepper. Cut radishes into 1/4 inch rounds. Place on paper towel and slightly sprinkle with salt. Let stand for several minutes, and then blot off excess water with paper towel (this softens the radish). Place a dollop of pea puree on each radish.
Carrot Soup:

Peel & cut 2lbs of carrots into 1/4 inch slices. Finely chop 2 shallots and saute in 3oz. olive oil. Add carrots & 1 potato (peeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes), and season with salt, pepper, and 1 TBS coriander. Saute for 5-7 minutes, to achieve color. Add 3 cups vegetable stock, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer, approx. 45 min, or until tender. Adjust seasoning as necessary (if making ahead, saltiness tends to increase over time, so make allowances, as necessary). Place slightly cooled batches of soup in blender and process until smooth. Work in small batches, to avoid blender explosions. Strain soup through med. strainer, using a ladle or wooden spoon (without straining, this soup resembled baby food. After, it was silken & delicious). I made this soup the day before, and reheated for serving. Topped with sour cream (creme fraiche would work here too), lil' bit of salt & white pepper, and a cilantro leaf (to reflect the coriander inside...coriander is the seed of cilantro).
Salad with marinated Mushrooms, Snap peas & Pine nuts

Heat 2 oz. olive oil & 1 minced shallot in a saucepan. Saute for 2-4 minutes. Add 2boxes sliced mushrooms (I always prefer brown mushrooms...they have more flavor). Stir & Saute, about 5 minutes. Add 3 oz. sherry vinegar (substitute others, as per your taste), salt & pepper. Place in plastic bag and marinate for 4 hours. Blanche snap peas in boiling water for a few minutes, and cool in ice bath (to keep their green color). Pan roast pine nuts in a dry pan for a few minutes, tossing occasionally, but watch out for scorching! Place frisee lettuce in salad bowl and lightly toss in vinegriette (1 part vinegar, salt & pepper, 3 parts olive oil...season to taste). Top with snap peas, marinated mushrooms, and pine nuts. Serve!

Roasted Leg of Lamb
Preheat oven to 350 F. Start with 4-5lb. leg of lamb, bone out. Mix 3 Tbs. olive oil, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, and 1 tsp. dried oregano. Mix and rub allover leg of lamb. In a roasting pan on the 2 stove top burners, brown leg of lamb on all sides. After, discard all but 2 Tbs of remaining fat & cooking liquid. Remove lamb from pan, to rest on cutting board. Do not remove pan from heat. Add mirepoix (2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) to pan. Lightly brown. Return roast to pan, add 2 cups dry white cooking wine (use an inexpensive wine!) 1 carton chicken stock, and cover with aluminum foil. Roast for 1 hour at 350 F. Roast for 1 hour covered. The last 30 minutes, uncover and roast for 30 minutes, or until internal temperature is 140 F (the lamb will continue to cook while it rests!). Meanwhile, reduce the cooking liquid & vegetables left in the pan on the stovetop over med-high heat. Serve sliced with vegetables and reduced cooking liquid (taste it!, and adjust as necessary). Serve with fresh orange slices and herbs (like those used in the cooking: thyme, etc).

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
In case you haven't tried them, fingerling potatoes are amazing! They have a nutty flavor that requires little preparation to make them taste fantastic! These were roasted in olive oil, minced garlic (2 cloves), salt & pepper while the lamb roasted. Same temperature as the lamb, 350 F. About 1 hour.

Recruit Help!
On Saturday, our easter lunch for 11 suddenly became lunch for 16! This commonly happens at our holiday celebrations, and it is my belief that holidays are for sharing with those you love! It always seems to be a parable for the fishes & the loaves @ our house...the more the merrier! So, as the executive chef, ask for help when necessary. I dont like to bake, but luckily I have friends who do! These are some of the yummy accompaniments...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Emulsion: a mixture of 2 or more inblendable ingredients

The last week has been consumed with my attempts to make the classic mother sauces from memory...mid-term next week. New favorite, Hollandaise (insert Madonna's "Holidays" song here..."Hollandaise")
I'm still amazed by this sauce...a true emulsion...egg yolks suspended in clarified butter...a most temperamental sauce. Temperature is EVERYTHING on this one. I've only tried to make it twice now, but I'm told it likes to make a fool of you when you least expect it. Here's the how to:
Clarify the butter (boiling & swirling to remove the milk fat solids). You need 2oz. clarified butter for every 1 egg yolk.
Make the reduction: 3 oz white wine, 1 oz cider vinegar, 1 1/2 oz. water, 1 tsp cracked black pepper, 2 TBS shallots. Reduce until almost dry...about 5 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and pour in (while whisking!) the slightly cooled reduction. Place the reduction & egg yolks over a double boiler (indirect heat here, people). Whisk & turn the bowl (1/4 turn), repeat. The mixture will begin to thicken as it cooks...keep whisking & turning. Once thickened, swirl in the clarified butter (clarified butter has less milk fat, and therefore a higher smoking point than regular butter), 1/3 at a time, until fully incorporated. Sauce should be slightly thickened and very flavorful...served at 120F or above. This sauce is very temp. sensitive and should be stored @ 135 F and only for a few hours (egg yolks held slightly above the danger zone temp...don't keep this one for too long!). This a sauce in which technique is paramount...too much temp...the eggs cook (scrambled eggs are bad here), too little (a weak, watery sauce). Season with lemon juice, salt, white pepper, Tabasco (I will always suggest cholulah here!), and a garnish of paprika. If the sauce is too hot, it will break (BAD!). This means that the egg & the fat have heated to the point of looks gross, and it is! If this should happen, whisk the hollandaise into the hot water (not the other way around!) until the two become friends again. This time, I served the Hollandaise with English muffins, prosciutto, and poached eggs = Eggs Benedict.
I'm still amazed by this sauce (no wonder it is finicky!)...the marriage of two things that are reputed not to belong together, and yet...the most delicious thing ever! I've had Hollandaise @ my favorite places for years, but now, the LBistro has the best :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

food porn

an exerpt from a book i'm reading "Heat" by Bill Buford

The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Without this, it is impossible to accumulate, within the slotted span, enough experiences of eating to have anything worth setting down. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol. They are indispensable, like a prize-fighter's hours on the road. (I have read that the late French professional gourmand Maurice Curnosky ate but one meal a day - dinner. But that was late in his life, and I have always suspected his attainments anyway, so many mediocre witticisms are attributed to him that he could not have had much time for eating). A good appetite gives an eater room to turn around in.
-A.J. Liebling, Between Meals

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

cooking...a sensory experience

At the suggestion of my mom (aka: "my cheeser") I will be posting a "tip of the day". More like, tip of every few days, as I still have to make a living here people. Anyway, here is something I've learned...
I've always considered myself an artist...a singer, a writer, a cook. Sensory stimulation plays a huge role here...what you hear, see, taste, smell, and feel. I tend to rely heavily on this when preparing meals. Set the oven timer for cookies, but your nose will usually let you know when they are done. Smell good enough to eat?, that's the first clue. Listen for sounds as a cue in the process...sizzling like its searing hot?, put on the steaks. Smells like somethings charring?, add some water to your steaming vegetables. The senses are a chef's best tools, and not just the ones for taste. Use intuition to guide your cooking, relying on sensory information. Your senses will tell you when something is ready to be enjoyed. DISCLAIMER: for those moments when senses are impaired, the use of a meat thermometer and an oven timer is essential. Bon appetit :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

blog day afternoon

Sometimes its not until my hunger pains threaten to roar for the whole neighborhood, that inspiration strikes. Today, that inspiration was nearly divine inspired. I lamented for weeks the fact that my favorite pizza joint didn't deliver anymore. Until, I discovered the beauty of LaRocco's NY style pizza "for here" instead of "to go." The thin crust (I hear they import water for the dough from the city) crisps like a cracker after its trip through the oven. The ricotta cheese bubbles into little golden brown crowns. My guy & I order 2 slices each (I was already considering a third) and some canned sodas (much to my dismay, he chose root beer, which I consider to be an abomination to all good flavors), slipped in to a comfy red-checkered table with a view. The pizza maestro arrived carrying all 4 pieces, on 4 different plates, all at one time...with ease. I wasn't the only one who was impressed. I heard him returning to the kitchen, offering tips to younger servers on safely carrying multiple plates ("balance your fingers here", he offered). The first bites did not disappoint! Ry & I quickly exchanged bites, so we could try all 4 kinds (and because sharing is caring). I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that you look like a NY pie rookie if you don't fold your slices, so I quietly folded my pizza sandwich. For the next 5 minutes, silence. Always the sign of a good meal. My affection for both salty & sweet things is deep-seeded. I can alternate between the 2 for days. Luckily, Velvet Yogurt is right next door to my beloved LaRocco's. Ryan timed our walk like a waltz, counting 2 steps out LaRocco's door, and a left hand turn into our sweet treat haven. Their Eurotart is veritable yogurt cloud. Reminiscent of plain yogurt flavor, it is both sweet and tart. Topped with raspberries, blueberries, granola and a swirl of honey, the next 5 minutes were also spent in a blissful silence. Ok, its now 5pm and I'm happy. But, what kind of cheese should I snack on tonight?

Friday, March 12, 2010

everyday eats

After sweating it up in the kitchen all day, the last thing I want to do is labor over dinner. This is a favorite quickee. Who doesn't love a good quickee? I saw a version of this on Tyler's Ultimate (ah, thank you Food Network), and adapted it, as necessary. Everything bagels with cream cheese, tuna salad (I love to sneak lots of veggies into tuna salad: celery, carrots, shallots), tomato, red onion, cucumber, and lemon pepper. Serve open-faced. This night, we also had some butternut squash soup (organic boxed soup tonight!) topped with creme fraiche. Dinner in 10 minutes, no take-out necessary :) My chef's at school would tell me to use white pepper on this soup, but all I had was black voila!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I love just about everything that comes in a martini glass. I've tried several different versions of this salad...some with shrimp, one with green goddess dressing. It never disappointed! Google the cilantro-pepitas dressing recipe, it's similar to the El Torito recipe.

Lobster Parfait
Butter poached lobster tail, orange supremes, cherry tomatoes, hearts of palm, arugula, and cilantro-pepitas dressing.

gettin saucy

This is an idea I've been considering for a while now. Truth is, I think mostly about food...the food I made last night, the food I want to make, the restaurants I'd like to visit. Today's culinary lab (#6 now) stressed the importance of "mother sauces", classic sauces that can be turned into a variety of "small sauces" from there (the bechamel became a mornay cheese sauce, the espagnole sauce became a demi-glace). I liked that idea, sort of a culinary thing creating another, a variety of options. I'm the mother sauce in this equation, and this blog is one of my new small sauces. I cook, I eat, and now, I write about it. Oh jeez, did I really just call myself the mother sauce?