Dinner for Two

Thanksgiving has never been a normal holiday for me. The tradition of tradition never fully formed, rather my tradition is to do something new almost every year. Scotland thanksgiving in a dorm kitchen. Late night turkey dinners in the outskirts of Florence. Drives into the Adirondacks to pseudo-log cabins to an almost frozen lake. Army supplied turkey in a studio apartment high above the Seoul streets. Turkey with family and friends. It really never looks the same.

This year, yet again, my plans began to unravel as my schedule made me work a late night Thanksgiving eve and an early morning the day after. So, with around 24 hours to spare to myself, I had to decide, what would I do? Stay home in Brooklyn and essentially take up what would become the most typical American Thanksgiving ever – sleep in, eat, drink, nap, watch too much T.V., pass out, wake up to eat more pie, finally sleep until morning – or go home to do much of the same, just surrounded by family and animals?

When I woke up at 10:30am, I knew my decision had been made: lazy America here I come.

I, however, couldn’t be overly lazy. Who am I to wake up and never leave the house? My daily agenda has run, write, bike to work, work, and clean on it almost daily. So to erase all of that just down to “eat” would be a little drastic and insensitive. With a quick personal Turkey trot out of the way, and a wonderful meeting of friends from years past (see: I ate Thanksgiving with her in Italy) on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum, I set off to the grocery store.

Granted, the day before I luckily carried money with me on a run in the morning and ran into a pop-up pre-Thanksgiving farmers market right by Prospect Park. It was, dare I say, almost magical. I loaded up with twenty dollars of produce (see: a bag of root vegetables, Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Apples (I was hungry for the now, too)). I also snagged an apple cider donut. The vendor asked “sugar or cake” “Sugar, please.” “That’s right, because sugar is so good for you after a run, right?” “Stop judging me, I want sugar.”

I still can’t believe I told him to stop judging me. He chuckled, I think.

At the grocery store, I must have lost consciousness or had a momentary bout of amnesia because I walked out with six bags of groceries and plans for six or seven dishes. On a normal Thanksgiving, that wouldn’t be too awfully crazy and hedonistic, but I was cooking for two, or three.

It was no later than two when I got home, unloaded groceries, put away the dried dishes, and started to chop my first onion. As opposed to my past dinner parties of flurry and fury and frantic last minute bouts of flash roasting – this was incredibly sustained, contained, and almost routine. With a Radiolab podcast teaching me about Patient Zeros (Typhoid Mary was a cook, didn’t you know?), I went through a pound of butter, five onions, a pound of Brussels Sprouts, a box of chicken stock, and made the house smell incredible for just three of us.

Come 5:30, I was ready. The oven kicked down from 350 to 200, and I anxiously awaited the doorbell.

Alas, by 6:45, it was two of us. My other companion had been held up by other turkeys and more mashed potatoes in bowls and on plates somewhere much north of me near to the infamous hipsterville. No matter, every Thanksgiving has a new tradition, and this one was simply to sit, take a deep breath of calm, sip on new wine, and strategically maneuver through too much food.

With Brussles Sprouts braised in Mustard, a White Bean Gratin, String Beans with Panko and Baby Portabellas, Roasted Spicy Fennel, Root Mash, Familial Stuffing, and two Spiced Pumpkin Maple Pies on the table, there was a lot to be thankful for and a lot of lying down after to do. Complaining or second guessing was no where to be found.

Here is my Thanksgiving menu. I hope you enjoyed yours, despite the cold or the traffic or the relatives that just wouldn’t stop pestering you about your new job or the one you can’t find anymore – there is too much to be Thankful for to ruin such a good day of food and relaxation.

Roasted Fennel (Salt, Red Pepper Flake, Olive Oil)

White Bean Gratin (White Beans, Onion, Kale, Garlic, Lemon, Salt, Pepper, Herbs de Provence, Cayenne, Panko, Olive Oil)

Stuffing (Bag-O-Crutons, Breakfast sausage, onions, butter, celery, carrots, Kale, Pepper, Chicken Stock, Red Wine)

Root Mash (Carrots, Rutabaga, Fingerlings, Russets, Parsnips, Milk, Butter, Salt, Pepper, Garlic)

Green Beans (Baby Portabellas, Green Onion, Oil, Salt, Pepper, Cayenne, Butter, Panko)

French Brussels (Brussels Sprouts, Onion, Garlic, Chicken Stock, Rice Wine Vinegar, Salt, Dijon)

Spiced Pumpkin Pie (Pumpkin, Milk, Maple Syrup, Nutmeg, Cloves, Cardamom, Salt, Ginger, Ginger Snaps, Butter, Salt)

Eggnog

Beaujolais Nouveau 2012

Malbec Mendoza 2011

 

White Bean Gratin (quick and easy way)

2 cans of white beans (Northern Beans)

1 Onion (chopped)

3 Cloves of Garlic (diced)

Six or so leaves of Tuscan Kale (flat leaves)

½ Lemon (the juice is what you’re looking for)

Rice Wine Vinegar

Two Dashes of Cayenne

Four Dashes of Herbs de Provence

Panko

Olive Oil

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

On medium-high heat, sautee the chopped onion and diced garlic until the onions start to loose their color. Add the Kale, and let it them wilt. Mix together the beans, cayenne, and Herbs in a separate bowl with the Kale is weeping. When the Kale has lost almost a quarter of their size (water weight), add the bean mixture. Let sautee for a few minutes and add the acids (lemon juice and vinegar – don’t use other vinegars. If you don’t have rice wine, it’s all good). Salt this mixture. I like salt, so I make it rain. If you don’t, don’t add as much.

Transfer this all to a casserole dish or something safe to head into the oven. In that bowl you mixed the beans and Herbs together in, empty about ¾ cup of Panko Bread Crumbs and 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Throw these on top of the bean-kale fiasco, and bake if off for about 30-45 minutes (let that top get crusty and golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Snow Falling, Doorbells Ringing

The night before the supper club, I was so sure I had it all together. I had made the soup, the carrot cake was done save the icing, most of the produce was cut and ready to sizzle in a pan with heaps of garlic, salt, and pepper. Little did I know, by 7pm the next night, I would still be waiting on the beets to roast, the kimchi to caramelize and the mushrooms to braise. By 7pm, people were also knocking on my door.

4pm (the day of): I got out of work and snagged a friend to trudge across lower Manhattan for a few things I still needed. You know, the small things: bread, kimchi, bowls, forks. For some reason I thought my apartment had enough things to feed twenty people, and I’d just make people eat out of bowls. Thankfully my friend wanted me to step my game up a little, and took me through the evolving blizzard into the depths of Chinatown for bowls and mushrooms. Once inside, our legs were soaked with heavy snowflakes, and I felt like I had been transported back to Taiwan or Korea. Really, it was like neither of these places, but it had been almost a year and a half since I had been in a large Asian market, whose air was heavy with fresh fish and other fruits of the sea. The large root vegetables on display in front of me and the lighting a bit dim. The floors were dangerously slippery and the candy section was filled with taro and bean paste candies. Next to the teapots sat digestive aids. It was a flash back, however vague the references. My friend ushered me through my nostalgic haze to find bowls, and we bounced, back into the tundra that New York City had become up to find the last of our ingredients.

5:30pm: Finally back home, arms tired from carrying half of my total ingredients, warm (our heat has just kicked on… how serendipitous), and excited, I suddenly became overwhelmed. With only an hour and a half before my wonderful friends were to be over, I still had to complete my menu. Roommates would come through asking if they could help out; “Should I cut these onions?” “Want me to wash that bowl?” “Did you see my yogurt?” No, stop that, and oops it’s in my dish. It was chaotic and frenzied and so g-d fun. Needless to say, I mildly blacked-out during that time. But somehow, I had roasted beets, and made candied almonds. Bread was toasting in the oven and Brussels were hanging out, wilting ever-so-slightly and marinating with kimchi (which, by the way, was sold to me by a work-a-holic Korean man whose produce stand is open for about 20 hours a day. He exclaimed upon my buying kimchi “Oh! You like the kimchi? You’re white though”. How sweet it was to feel a tad bit back home in Korea), and lentils were soaking up the last dregs of broth.

6:30pm: My first bailout.

6:45pm: My numbers have plummeted: 18 people to 9. It was the storm’s monstrous snow drop that swayed people. Considering the MTA had just shut down, and there was a possibility that they might shut down again, I couldn’t blame anyone.

6:50pm: Ten more people had re-confirmed. Numbers saved.

7pm: The first doorbell rings.

7:45pm: Soup is served.  A butternut squash and parsnip soup started off with a garlicky mirepoix and vegetable stock. Cooked for two hours, and pureed, I let it sit overnight to let the flavors blend and intensify. I served it hot, with toasted baguette and a hefty drizzle of white truffle oil.

8:15pm: The second course is laid out in the middle of the table. Roasted crimson and golden beets with olive oil, salt, and pepper to bring out their natural sweetness and earthiness. The beets were let cool for ten minutes and tossed with freshly roasted and cardamom candied almonds. The sweet crunch balanced the tender earthy root. Soup-like lentils, heavily seasons, came with a robust mirepoix (heavy celery, caramelized onions, and roasted carrots). Chunks of garlic found their way from bite to bite. Off to the left sat Brussels Sprouts sautéed in a wok with butter and kimchi. The Brussels sweetened their aggressive pungency with browned butter and balanced out the sharp, and crispy kimchi, all coming together to create the perfect bite: salty, sweet, earthy, and bright. The meat-main of the night was a roasted Portabella mushroom topped with sautéed kale, onions, and thick smoked bacon. Let me put it this way: for six mushroom tops, there was a pound of bacon. It was no vegetarian’s paradise (or… was it?).

8:30pm: The last person gets there, worn and battered from getting lost in the neighborhood with a fiddle that was momentarily left in a liquor store, a bottle of wine, and a dead cell phone. Her story was my favorite part of the night.

8:45pm: The Brussels Sprouts bowl was empty.

9:00pm: Where there were 8 bottles of wine, there are now three.

10:00pm: Brenda, who never showed up, is by default heart-broken. There is no more cake.

12:30am: The final guest rolls out into the winter wonderland on their way home and I gaze at the battle ground that I had created. And I felt content.

Cut Brussels Sprouts And Simmering Soup

Ah, just got out work. What should I do? Hop on my bike and bike around the island? Eh. Go to the gym and hang out with some free weights? That could be fun. Grab some overly priced kale salad from that delicious little spot in SoHo? I would love to, but that spot in Brooklyn is so much better. Sigh. Go to the grocery store to pick up the start of food for twenty people to come over tomorrow. Getting better. Go to the farmers market down the street with a thirty pound bag of groceries to pick up discounted vegetables because it’s tens minutes until close? Hi, winter, I laugh in your face. Cook a soup to feed an army, start Brenda’s favourite thing in the world, cut about two hundred fifty Brussels Sprouts, and clean four heads of garlic and ten onions? Yes. Please.

Part of the magic you see in restaurants is, in a large way, because of those dedicated preparation cooks coming in at 7am to clean garlic, dice tomatoes, blanch everything green you would ever see on your plate (that isn’t raw) and essentially set up all of the mise-en-place [meez- uhn- pla-se). That is to say, when you come in, get your water – no ice – slice of lemon, appetizer, middle, and entrée, all of that is possible because most of those julienned, chopped, pickled things are set right next to cook’s massive cutting boards and sharpened knives.  When you try to do something that fancy at home, there is no way to match the speed of restaurants.

I was planning on cooking a dinner for twenty. If I had been a catering system, it would have taken me maybe three hours to get this set, and plated. Instead, it took me two days.

Two days ago, I hit up the grocery store after work to find all of my bulk items. Vinegar, oils, garlic, onions, squashes, grains, you know – those things that are necessary for a dinner party – supper club – to really take shape. Equipped with all of those in one bag (Trader Joe’s people really know how to pack a paper bag) I walked those six busy blocks to what was possibly the most sparse Green Market I’ve seen in New York history. I stopped for a second to really reflect on why that was – the storm approaching, Hurricane Sandy that just took a huge toll on people in the neighboring areas (please do your part helping those areas most affected…). It was four stands touting honey, two stands dedicated to baked breads, and one stand lacking most of those winter vegetables you love. No beets. No sunchokes. No potatoes larger than a fingerling. Only four bags of parsnips. No mushrooms. And for cry out loud: NO COLLARDS. It was shocking enough for me to alter my menu a bit. No more sunchoke puree. The beet dish had to chill a bit – I had no hopes of making it my main. And collard greens had to change to another tough cooking green. It was okay, because bacon makes everything better.

Once home, I felt invigorated. Here I was with all of this produce and ingredients in general, and a clean kitchen. I had sharpened knives, and three huge cutting boards. Let the games begin.

Earlier, on my train ride to the first food stop, I had mapped out what needed to happen that night, and what could happen the next day – that is: I was a Chef de Cuisine mapping out what I would tell myself as my own prep cook. Roast beets. Make soup. Start Brenda’s favourite. Cut Brussels. Create Mirepoix.

Three hours, I had gotten so far – the soup was pureed a la my first Brooklyn restaurant job’s amuse-bouche. The spiced carrot cake was sitting, aluminum foiled on my fridge. The back of my top shelf were lined with small bowls of split Brussels Sprouts. And with all of the dishes cleaned, I stood over my parsnip – butternut squash soup made with onion, garlic, celery, carrots, salt, pepper, and rice wine vinegar and enjoyed the soothing smooth taste. The squash had gotten enough direct heat to release its wonderfully autumnal sweetness with the parsnips balancing it out, brining nutty qualities and the mirepoix founding it in good, hearty, French style. With truffle oil on its way tomorrow, I was ready to go hard the next day. Little did I know I would have to trek through blizzard conditions to find Chinese bowls, French Bread, and Italian oils. Messenger, Delivery boy, Prep Cook, Sous, and CDC – you know, this is exactly why I love cooking supper clubs.

At The Moment, A Sharpie Written List

One of my moms hates Paris. She says that it is too perfect, what with their old ladies walking arm in arm smoking out of cigarette holders and mid-aged men striding home with an unsheathed baguette for breakfast and the old man is sitting on his micro-sized balcony having a morning black coffee and someone, somewhere is kissing. Always.

And it’s too clean, she says. Why would a boy be sweeping the sidewalk? Why would the subways not stink? Just: why? She likes the New York grit. The realness to the city. I can’t say that I hated Paris. The large boulevards and small winding streets. The runs that take you past architectural history. The dulled colors, and vibrant energy. The food.

The food is something of a mystery to me, seeing as it is simple, but takes about twenty steps to truly accomplish. And really, the dining scene there is all over the place. Awful bistro next to a wonderful market. Beautiful restaurant situated in what looks like a home next to the worst hole in the wall restaurant ever. A man yelling on the street that he has the best falafel in the world, and it’s true.  Paris is anything but perfect, but I have to admit that it is inspiring sometimes, even when living in the artist capital of the world: Brooklyn.

So I fancied it time to get a little Paris into my life. A Supper in my home. Unconventional seating, just like in that bedroom-turned-dining room restaurant in the 3rd. Three emails sent. Twenty people confirmed and the menu has just been written on the inside of a Trader Joe’s bag.

Supported Revival

This is all in bad form. It has been close to that of a year since new, meaningful, words found their way onto this blog. My good friend, when discussing a blog revival, said it was in bad taste, bad form, flat out wrong, for me to post so frequently for so long, and then simply stop. And to stop so suddenly, and with no repose.

So in that light, I’ve decided to revamp the format, and give myself a aesthetic reason to look at 20somethings again – meta, without doubt.

Why? Why not just start up where I left off? Why not just talk about holidays and summer and tacos made on back porches in the heart of Seoul? For many reasons. First and foremost: I tried to do that back a year ago. And I quote: “It’s time for another change…I want this place now to be a memoir, a conglomeration, a mélange of stories of this construction of a menu, and a palate through the food”.  It obviously didn’t work out amazingly. True, I tried out many new recipes, but never did they find their way onto the page. I could try to figure out reasons as to what it was specifically that made me quiet my writers mind – America, lack of kimchi, restaurants became my home and not classrooms, biking over bridges really took it out of me (?), bodega grocery stores, laundry mats?

All in all, things have changed.

And for that reason, the greyed background and photos of the Tetons are gone. Cookies in question head my writing. Not to worry, it is still the blog photo-documenting experiences of food, story telling, and creating recipes. But like many careers of a 20-something, times and events change. Maybe the adventures won’t seem as foreign to some, but to many: living in the five boroughs is nothign near commonplace. Sometimes, you just need a facelift to get yourself excited again. Let’s start a-new.