Monday, June 14, 2010

Dinner Impossible

Yesterday my nephew graduated from 8th grade and my sister invited lots of family to celebrate the occasion. Arriving in NJ, at my sister's house, the scene was chaotic with her three kids, my siblings, and mom all talking at the same time. My strategy was to tune everyone out to save brainpower.

We all pitched in to get things set up, cleaning off the deck chairs and decorating with balloons and "Congrats Grad!" banners everywhere. My sister Maria expected about 20 people to arrive at 4:00 pm and she wanted the party outside - al fresco. My brother in-law set up chafing stands on a long table with Sterno and filled the trays with water. Maria is a very busy doctor, she works incredibly long hours and cooking for 20 people is not her idea of fun - so, she bought tons of prepared Italian food from a specialty food store.

The graduation ceremony was slated for 3:00 pm and out of simple curiosity I checked out the eight trays of food to see what my sister ordered for the party. Not surprising, the usual suspects prevailed, chicken parmigiana, baked ziti, eggplant parmigiana, stuffed peppers, foccocia pizza, stuffed zucchini, sausage and peppers and assorted paninis. The trays of food were ice cold and a little tremor of panic ran through me. It was now 2:45 pm, people were to arrive in little over an hour and the food needed to be completely reheated. I immediately flipped the oven on to 425 degrees, removed the foil covers and quickly decided what was going to take longest to heat up. The oven is pretty standard and small and I used every possible inch of space to heat as much as possible. The clock was ticking, I ended up not going to the ceremony and I was now officially in charge of the food.

As the on-call chef, I swapped out aluminum trays of Italian food to ensure everything was hot and ready. I was prepared to light the Sterno and get the food out to the table on the deck when it started to drizzle. It looked like a passing rain so I figured I'd wait it out a little longer. The rain started to come down harder, the helium balloons that were once dancing in the wind were now weighed down by the constant rain. It was time for a decision, I hustled the five chafing dishes into the kitchen and set everything up once again. At 3:45 pm I was almost ready to get everything into the chafing dishes. With just two things left to warm up I felt pretty good about what I was able to coordinate in such little time. Minutes later, a rush of family and friends flooded the house and they all had that hardened "feed me" look.

Pondering my own graduation from culinary school it's not always what you know but how you translate that knowledge in different situations. We celebrated my nephew's big day, Jersey-style, with more food than one family could possibly consume, way too many desserts and a good cup of cawfee.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Juicy Lucy

Philly has the cheese steak, Buffalo has its wings, and the cream pie for Bostonians - but the Minnesotans have the Juicy or Jucy Lucy. My new gal pal and fellow foodie, Heather, played culinary matchmaker by introducing me to Ms. Jucy Lucy. In its simplest form a Jucy Lucy is a hamburger stuffed with cheese. The ordinary burger is transformed with a molten center.

To bring things up a notch, I purchased brioche rolls, Tillamook cheddar, cremini mushrooms and onions. Hours earlier Heather talked me through the process, she having lived in the land of 10,000 lakes knew something about this regional phenomenon.

When dinner rolled around I caramelized some sliced onions, then sauteed some cremini with leeks, and thyme. I split the soft brioche rolls and made the cheese stuffed patties. The grill pan heated. The burgers sizzled.

Topped with onions and mushrooms the stage was set. Juicy, meltingly satisfying... those Minnesotans had something there. The only thing that would have made it better would have been an iced cold pop.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the Farm

There are some nights after work where the inspiration to make something for dinner is not as strong as the allure of take-out or going out. Tonight was one of those nights. I didn't have a protein defrosting in the refrigerator which means either going to Greene Grape Provisions or take-out.

With Marc leaving tomorrow morning for Florida we decided to treat ourselves and go out. At first we decided Italian, then mid-way we changed direction at a whim. Marc thought Flatbush Farm & Barn sounded even better. It's the kind of restaurant that is unpretentious but stylish. The high ceilings, large windows facing the street, and long bar opposing the row of tables that nestle next to darkly painted wainscot have a very Brooklyn vibe.

We settled in, reviewed the menu, ordered a cocktail and debated what dishes to order. Drinks arrived, a Belvedere on the rocks and a pear martini for me. After some discussion we ordered Grilled Iceberg Lettuce, Caesar Dressing, Tomato Confit Crostini and the Spaetzle with Kabocha Squash, Wild Mushrooms and Pesto.

I was leery of grilled iceberg and was really happy to get the spaetzle. The spaetzle with a bite of mushroom had an earthy flavor. The deeply flavored pesto and squash rounded out the whole dish.

For dinner, Long Island Duck Steak, Duck Confit, Dried Cherry, Kabocha, Sprout Leaves, Creamy Polenta and NY Strip with Broccoli, Bacon and Herbaceous Sauce. When the entrees arrived I looked at my duck and turned the plate 180 degrees to face me and knew that's how the chef would have preferred it be presented. My entree was subtle, delicious, the duck demi-glace had that stocky, deeply caramelized and sticky smack of richness. It was so good I didn't even want to try any of the NY Strip, I was happy with what I ordered and enjoyed the creamy polenta and pieces of duck confit hidden under the sliced duck breast. All the flavors melded, it was a flavor-story in every bite. We both had a glass of French "Chateau du I don't know" that complemented the food perfectly.

I forced the last bite and finished stuffed to the gills. Why on Earth we ordered coffee a cappuccino and a Warm Chocolate Cake with Banana Chip Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce I just didn't know. I couldn't fathom dessert after all the savory notes I enjoyed throughout the dinner. Oh, I remember, I ordered the cappuccino because the waiter said he makes a really good one and indeed once the espresso was brewed the luscious roasted coffee smell set me at ease.

My spoon sunk into the warm chocolate dessert and brushed the banana chip ice cream for fun. The meltingly decadent spoonful was the first of many jabs at that dessert. I thought to myself why I hadn't blogged about this place. I've dined here half a dozen times. I knew it was time to share this place, a gem of a restaurant that hits many notes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dog Eat Dog

I know, I've been a bad bad blogger - it's been tough I have to say - with work, life, love - I think about blogging and the time slips away. A week later I think "oh, I shoulda blogged about X,Y or Z. Well, with dinner out of the way and a French Martini keeping me company I really was inspired to write about my experience at a new eatery we discovered in Brooklyn.

I've been planning a painting project for a few weeks now and trekked to a hardware/paint store on Flatbush Ave and Bergen Street. Marc and I are trying to find the perfect color to paint an accent wall in our kitchen. The counters are a mottled gray lava-stone and I want to make a bold color statement to play off of the pretty, albeit drab counter tops. Weeks ago, I looked at Restoration Hardware paint colors - all are soothing and sophisticated and I found a color that resembles charcoal.

Now, I love to paint, I've probably painted more apartments in my time than I'd like to remember. I've been in the new place for just over a year and I am itching to drag out that brush and painters tape to get in some practice. The trip to the paint store was quite successful - mulling over paint chips and examining them with my mind's eye of what I "think" is the most appropriate color, I bought paint supplies and took home about a dozen paint chips to examine them in different light.

After a process of quick elimination, Marc and I both decided Benjamin Moore's "Day's End" will be the perfect shade to make that bold if not "wow" statement. Leaving the paint store we decided to walk down this short stretch of Bergen Street where cafes and restaurants are one-named like "Melt" and "Bark" curious for a small quaint street. Makes me wonder if one place was trying to upstage the other.

My dear friend, Aimee, mentioned a hot dog joint called "Bark" and when Marc and I passed it I felt an immediate affinity to the place since I had word-of-mouth accolades of its existence - from a vegetarian none-the-less!

We passed by and I mentioned that we should try it. We continued down the street looked at Melt and immediately turned around and agreed, we need a hot dog!

Walking into Bark, as in any new place, my inner foodie tried to figure out the joint as soon as possible. It was an order at the counter, sit down at the communal tables and listen for your name to get your food-kind-of place.

This place is all about the humble dog, sausage, wurst, what have you. A simple, straight-forward place that states exactly who they are and what they do. I totally appreciate that - it shows passion and direction. Now, gimmie that chili-cheese dog!

Marc ordered a wurst made of veal and pork served with sauerkraut, rye bread and grainy mustard. My chili cheese dog was brought to me in a humble, baseball park-like cardboard package. We devoured our "dogs" with gusto. The flavors and fresh ingredients struck a gastronomic cord. Topped off with a vanilla shake that was speckled with real vanilla bean we were we pacified like a puppy with a new toy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Storm Troopers

The weatherman warned of the coming snow days before our trip to Michigan. We planned to leave mid-week and stay through the holiday weekend. The day before our trip I was headed into work, earphones on and the latest song I downloaded from iTunes. Cruising down West 34th Street I was just a few stops away from my office and then my phone rang. It was Marc on the other end, I could here him speaking to another person on the line and then he says, "our flight is already canceled for tomorrow and Delta can get us on a flight today that leaves at 12:47pm." I stuttered for a second not really be prepared to leave in a mere three hours and said OK, let's go! I rushed onto the office, grabbed my laptop, spoke to my boss about the flight and tore out as quickly as I came in.

The clock is ticking, I need to get back to Brooklyn, pack, and get the dog over to my mom's house. I jumped into a cab and couldn't stop looking at my watch every 5 minutes. I was fairly optimistic that we could pack our bags, get Zachary together and drop him off in NJ and make it in time to fly out of LaGuardia. Finally, at home, I raced up to the apartment to see Zach's stuff piled up and some luggage partially filled with clothes. Marc was reciting all the things he packed for me and I stared dumbfounded at the clothes hanging in my closet trying to decide what to take. I knew we had "cottage clothes" up at the lake so I scrambled and grabbed some jeans and sweatshirts.

It became obvious that there was no way we could get Zach to my mom's house and we started to go back and forth with other options. We called our driver, Rafi, to pick us up and asked him if he could make two trips. "Rafi, can you bring us to LaGuardia, and then take Zachary to Anthony's mother's house in NJ?" Rafi was more than happy to oblige so we hurriedly finished packing and waiting for him to arrive.

Marc, Zachary and I were piled into the back seat of a town car with luggage between us. I was excited to be up at the lake house in the winter as I've only been there in summer and fall. Arriving at LaGuardia, I kissed Zachary on the head, made sure he was comfortable in his bed in the backseat, thanked Rafi and walked into a very crowded terminal. Checking in wasn't too bad but the security line was so long it wrapped around a corner so we couldn't really tell where it ended. We trudged to the end of the line and waited patiently to get up to security. Almost immediately, two women behind us started to fight over who knows what and their truck driver-inspired comments to each other were shocking! I kept my distance from these burly gals as we slunk up to the security checkpoint. Finally at the gate we were ready to board.

As I sunk into my seat, I finally had a chance to catch my breath and relax with my venti iced two-pump vanilla non-fat latter from Starbucks. Happily, we were on our way racing against time, weather and brash women.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Whatever, Alexis!

I'm blogging live at the Martha Stewart show today for a special blogging show! I've lapsed in my weekly blogging and hope this will kick me in the ass and get motivated once again to keep writing.

I'm so excited that Martha has her daughter on the show - the tension is palpable between the two of them.

Martha is now making Pad Thai - and I know what I want for lunch =) The studio is filled with the scents of tamarind, palm sugar and nam pla! The audience is going to receive The Foodie Handbook, a book written by a foodie named Pim Techamuanvivit - she and Martha are just about making the Pad Thai from Pim's book.

After a commercial break we are back with Martha, Alexis and Jennifer (the Whatever Martha girls) it is becoming more irritating that Alexis is being so short with her mother. If she didn't want to be on the show then why torture us with your lackadaisical attitude.

Anyway, as the show wound up I was excited to be a part of the blog-0-sphere today. Everyone was tweeting every moment from their seats - check out #blogshow on Twitter.

I was out of the studio by 11:30 am. It was great to be a part of the audience - it is also so amazing to watch a live show. There's no room for error and Ms. Martha is a champ behind the camera!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Talkin' Turkey

Thanksgiving went by so quickly that I felt like I didn’t really get my fill of the holiday. Up in Michigan, we celebrated Thanksgiving with Marc’s family at the lake – his aunt and uncle put out an incredible table of traditional dishes to satisfy anyone. My task was to roast the turkey – an important job nonetheless but I was confident I could pull it off.

Now for any chef, working in an unfamiliar kitchen is always daunting – you never have everything you need so one must improvise. For the big holiday, the turkey was simply seasoned with thyme, sage, paprika, black pepper, garlic, onion, oregano and celery salt. These were the spices I had at my disposal so I had to make it work – for extra flavor I added strips of bacon over the breast to help self-baste the bird while roasting. I also like to baste every 30 minutes as well to add to the juiciness.

I was more than amused and curious when Marc called out to me to check out the group of wild turkeys walking through the side yard. Not the most attractive bird, the gawky, grazing birds where an apropos addition to our holiday. The snow started to fall outside and the ground was speckled white.

Hours later, our turkey emerged from the oven with crisp, golden brown skin and the bacon was extra crispy and delicious. Thinking about that festive meal, I wanted to repeat those savory flavors and make it all over again.

Last night, I prepared a hotel-style turkey breast in very much the same style to how I made it for Thanksgiving. As the turkey convection roasted I made a quick cranberry sauce. Made with 1 cup of water, 1 cup sugar and a bag of fresh cranberries - the sauce starts by dissolving the sugar in the water as it comes to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves, add cranberries and stir on low heat for 10 minutes. Cool sauce and chill.

A savory dressing made of corn bread, onion, celery, and sausage were prepped and ready to combine. Time passed and the scent of Thanksgiving filled the apartment. I can't get enough of that comforting aroma. As the turkey rested before carving, I used the pan drippings to make a creamy, deeply flavored gravy.

When we sat down to eat I was grateful for a quiet weekend at home, for the family and friends in my life and for the opportunity to cook for someone special.