Eight and Three Make Twenty

IMG_3026The past three days have been recuperating days – those that find themselves done by ten pm instead of two am. They have been short, sweet, and relaxing mainly to make up for last weekend’s visits, last minute holiday shopping, and preparations which all culminated in a sixteen to twenty person supper club.

To start off what felt like a marathon sprint, my mom arrived in town last Thursday to celebrate the holidays I didn’t get to have at home this year. That following Friday her partner showed up just in time for margaritas, fish tacos, and guacamole at my local Mexican restaurant.

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Every moment in those two days, sparing work here and there, was jam packed with foods and walking and finding store that may have been just across the street even though we walked five blocks out of the way, and wines and laughter and serious talking about futures and family. Saturday rolled around, heralding in their departure after an introductory Indian food delivery dinner. I can’t hate – the Indian food in my neighborhood is almost required on a weekly basis.

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Around ten pm Saturday night, I started to cook for what would become an eight-course meal. My original menu was four courses with one wine pairing and three other suggestions. After talking with my kitchen partner, it quickly became a conversation as to how many courses we could actually do.

We need cheeses.

Don’t you think we should have some sort of bread course?

What about breaking up the soup and salad?

Isn’t Fairway open?

The short and sweet answer is: no. Fairway, for those unaccustomed with greatness, is the best grocery store in the greater New York area (dispute me, I know there are close seconds). They have three locations that I know of in the city, one being in a huge warehouse down in Red Hook. The location is incredible, overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Why it is the best is because the aisles never stop. There are aisles for days. The produce section is as large as most grocery stores. The organic section? Bigger than two of my childhood homes. I taste tapenade and coffee and bread and cheeses and olives as I shop. Best yet, it is the cheapest I know of.

Needless to say, this was both of our stores of choice. Strapping my seatbelt on at seven to make the store’s closing at nine, I rushed down there. No matter if I had left at noon or midnight, the store is still in disrepair after Sandy.

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The day after Sandy, I went around Redhook, taking pictures trying to grasp the effects of the disastrous hurricane, but since then, I almost think – in some optimistic corner of my brain – that everything has returned to normal. It hasn’t – there are an insane amount of people still without power and homes. So as a side note, please donate your time or efforts to help them.

With my mind reeling from the hurricane and how I was going to get the ingredients to start to prep for Sunday, I panicked and went to my safe place: Trader Joe’s. You’ll have a hard time beating the prices of that place. The produce might not be the best, but their quesadilla taste tests are so satisfying after waiting in line for five minutes.

Home by eight, the moms gone by nine, I was in the kitchen cooking at ten. Come four in the morning, I finally set my head on my pillow and drifted off for a three hour nap before the next day’s work started to call me awake.

A wonderfully difficult Sunday shift left me tired by four and racing home by six.

I don’t know how we’re going to do this.

I’m so tired.

What did you actually get done?

Do you have a peeler?

What wine did they order?

We need to get baguettes.

My good friend and kitchen guru by my side by six thirty, we started to chop, peel, dice our way to freedom.

What seems insane, is that although I made the cake and soup (what were ostensibly the first and last courses) the prior night, we still had six courses to cook in two hours. People were to show up by eight. They started the flood around quarter after seven.

With our hearts racing, minds reeling, and knives precisely slicing, we had to make a game plan. The risotto was still crunchy. The chicken needed another thirty minutes. The eggplant had come out quicker than we had predicted, so the menu changed again. It broke down from four to six to eight courses and bowls and plates were starting to be wiped and readied.

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With people sitting comfortably in the main room sipping on hot toddies and chilled white wines, I bring out a massive cutting board filled with cheeses and crackers. Followed shortly by a shaved Fennel salad. The night progressed steadily with a break around course five.

After the Brussels course, a good friend and cook at one of the restaurants came strolling into the kitchen bearing a flower.

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I brought a flower, he giggled.

Brian, please, help us with the chicken. You love carving, right?

Yeah, put me in the game.

And that was it, he became our third, throwing in suggestions, helpful tips, and gorgeous meat carving. By the time the olive oil cake came into play, he started in on melting the chocolate without question, asking only how I wanted the dish plated.

Oui Chef, he said, almost as sternly as if we were behind the line six short hours ago.

Three hours came and went and people were sedated, sated, and so very content. Throughout the night we saw twenty people, serving vegetarian options, and by the end, I passed quickly into a dreamy state of exhausted bliss.

No matter how tired I may be, it will always be worth it.

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Eight and Three Menu

Cheese Board of Brie, Smoked Gouda, Chevre, New Zealand Cheddar, Olives, and crackers

Toasted Baguette with Compound Truffle Butter with Fresh Heirloom Bruschetta and Basil

Shaved Fennel Salad on Mixed greens with Sliced Apples, Orange Supremes, and Rice Vinaigrette

Smoked Tomato Soup with Ricotta Salata and Pea Shoots

Roasted Cauliflower on Seared Brussels Sprouts with Turkey Bacon and Roasted Garlic

Pureed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup, Bourbon, and Roasted Chicken

Barley Risotto with Roasted Root Vegetables and Compound Herb Butter

Olive Oil Cake on Salted Chocolate with Orange Zest

 

 

Want one? Get at U.S. unfamiliarsuppers@gmail.com

To unfamiliar places, people, and food

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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.

Thanksgiving: The Day Cooks Love (Or Fear)

Text: “How was your fantastic food holiday”

Message: “I’ve been waiting for your post.”

Question: “So, what’d you eat on Thanksgiving?”

It might be just the American thing to do: ask about that holiday where we gorge ourselves and delight and laugh at the fullness we feel, let alone and sometimes separate from the satiation that is ubiquitous throughout homes warmed by ovens cooking turkey at 350 for 3-6 hours. Or, it might be the fact that I think about, talk about, write about, take pictures of food twentyfourseven. Whatever.

To answer those questions: My fantastic food holiday was splendid. It was wonderful and full of family (not all of my family, unfortunately, since we’re all spread out across the country trying to take over, but of course!) and friends and going to the grocery store and stocking up, and writing down lists and trying to time the cooking procedures just right and working well with Nancy in the kitchen and the oven not working the night before and making ice cream that might not be ice cream rather just frozen milk fats surrounding brandy… it was ridiculous.

Thanksgiving is such a strange holiday for me. It’s one of those days that I feel drawn to the home so that I can really flex my culinary muscles – it’s a day that centers around my passion, so why wouldn’t I love every second of it? I get to go to the grocery store, fight through the hoards of people in line for a turkey, go to the wine shop to pick out a nice red to couple well with those few sides that people may or may not focus on, then come home, blast the oven, turn on the open flame, and zone out to the sizzling, whispering, steaming food in front of me.

It’s also the holiday that I feel most comfortable being away from home, strangely enough. In the past 8 years, I’ve spent 4 of them abroad or away from the home. It’s a nice challenge, it’s a nice reminder of home, when it’s so far away.

But this year. THIS year. This YEAR! I’m home. I’m on the path to turning my kitchen official. I’m making money so that I can splurge on that nice cheese to make the squash casserole just that much deeper, that much better. This year was great.

On the menu, dear readers all anxiously awaiting:

Turkey Prepared according to Saveur’s recommendation (including letting the bird sit in the refrigerator for two days, to “dry out” the skin to create oh-so-moist meat)

Grandma Slappin’ Good Stuffing (non-vegetarian, folks)

Homemade, not-so-bitter Cranberry Sauce

Butternut Squash Bake (or casserole, whatever nomenclature you prefer)

Mashed Potatoes (mmm Half n’ Half abound!)

Not Slimey, Not Bitter, Not disgusting Collard Greens

Brussels Sprouts cooked in a Wok. Who knew?

Braised Carrots

Gravy (please pass the water glass, it’s that good)

No Biscuits… sad face emoticon

Rye Whiskey Ice Cream

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Spicy Pumpkin Pie

Since the Recipes would take up another four pages, let me choose some of the favorites:

Nancy’s Stuffing:

It’s a secret, how annoying.

 

Collard Greens (that won’t make you run to the garbage)

In order of appearance

6 Strips of bacon

Cook these strips, cut in half, for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat

Olive Oil – a splash(ish)

2 big ol’ handfuls of Collards (they’ll cook down)

Salt  (to taste)

Pepper (enough so that you can see it on the collards)

1 package of chestnuts

1 White (or red) onion, chopped (or diced, whatever floats your life-vest)

Add all of this to the bacon, and let it cook together, over medium-low heat, for about 45 minutes. It won’t get too soggy, I promise (there’s no real liquid in there, remember)

Add a couple swigs of maple syrup 10 minutes before you’re done cooking the greens. More if you like them sweet, less if you like them not as sweet.

Total, the flame should be kissing the bottom of your cast iron (or other pan) for about an hour and five to an hour and ten minutes.

If you let them cool, and save some for tomorrow, then they’ll be even sweeter and more tender. Just sayin, they go quite nicely on a “next day sandwich.”

Peach Faith

I started cooking with desserts. I’ve said it before but I should remind readers because really, through the salads, the travels, the entrees, and the live food – most of my culinary bedrock rests on desserts. I know it, my family knows it, my friends know it. So within ten to fifteen minutes of me stepping through the door after being gone for over a year, my mom says “the only food requests is that you take those,” finger extended and pointed in the direction of just picked peaches, “and make a pie.”

Requests are amazing since then I have a specific audience and someone really to cook for. So into the ol’ noggin I went, trying to come up with a new peach pie. I couldn’t  just do peaches and sugar. So I took a leap of faith, a look into our herb garden, and a peak at our spice cabinet and came up with something.

See, as the summer season toys with the faint of heart and teases those in love with fall as temperatures start to dip down at night, I start to pair classic cross-seasonal flavors together. In this case: peaches, mind, rooted in cardamom with a touch of bergamot.

The earthy-sweet-savory taste of cardamom hid out in the simple, slightly sweet buttery crust while the peaches, summer honey, and mint marinated together for an hour.

In addition to the flavor brigade, I also tried to make it almost a custard pie, stocking up the filling with a greek-strained yogurt, an egg, and a lot of… faith that this wouldn’t be a disaster.

After the 45 minutes in the oven, I knew it was anything but. It was hinted sweet with deep notes of cardamom in the thick hand rolled dough. The tang of the yogurt balanced both the peach-honey and lively mint sweets. All put together this was a great dessert (which I replicated three days later) for a late summer, early evening on a porch. Try it, it all is super easy.

Peach-Mint Pie with a Cardamom-Bergamot Crust

It looks complicated on paper, but simple in practice!

The dough:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 stick of butter (cold!)

Sea Salt

Cardamom

A cup of Earl Grey Tea

Toss the 2 cups of flour into a food processor. Cut up the cold butter into slices and toss them into the processor. Pulse it a few times to get the butter chopped into the flour. Add the salt, and cardamom (two pinches of salt, a few shakes for the cardamom). Pulse. Add some Earl Grey Tea into the mixture and pulse until the dough is just before cookie-dough smooth. You want some rolling to do.

Take it out. Ball it up. Put it into some cling wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

The peaches:

6 peaches (sliced, but not necessarily peeled)

¼ cup of Honey

Mint (depends on how much you like mint, folks!)

Add these together, and let sit for 45 minutes to marinate.

The custard:

1 cup Greek-strained yogurt (or plain yogurt, whatever tickles your pickle)

½ cup honey

1 egg

1 tablespoon flour

½ teaspoon (aka a splash) vanilla

Pinch of salt

Mix this up.

The combo:

Preheat the oven to 400

Take the dough out. Roll it well so it’s thin, but not awfully thin. Place it into a pie pan and cut off the edges. If you have extra dough, give it to someone you love to snack on, or take it, roll it, and prep it for a laced-topping.

Put the peach mixture in the pie crust. Fill it up with the yogurt custard. Pop it into the oven at 400 for 25 minutes. Then, reduce it to 375 for the remaining 25-30 minutes.

Ps if you have a top (that extra dough), give it a quick egg wash for a nice golden brown look.

Pps. Ice Cream is required.

Bumping Around

Before we set off on our adventure today, spanning from the early morning  New York City streets to the calm lapping of lake waves against a North Carolinian dock soundtracked by a mandolin in the background, I have to say that one of the most amazing meals I have ever had, was had in SoHo at a family friend’s place: The Dutch,  an American Restaurant, Bar and Oyster Room inspired by local cafés, country inns, corner taverns, neighborhood bistros, seaside shacks, roadside joints, old school dining halls and the same mix of cultural influences that make New York City great. It’s a new place getting rave reviews that can’t seem to serve enough people in a night and for good reason. Delicate, savory, boisterous foods that pack a punch and leave you with taste buds that will always and forever want more. Joined by five others, the table saw little oyster sandwiches, fried green tomatoes with ruby red shrimp, cornbread to kill for, a take on okonomiyaki with tender asparagus, grilled quail with delicate but powerful summer salsa and poblano, scallops over seasonally good sweet corn and chipotle, pot pies, a special with scrumptious oysters, six appetizer cocktails, about every dessert in the world (peach pie, key lime pie with ice cream, chocolate cake, a selection of heart-stoppingly good fresh made ice creams) and two bottles of wine (one white, one rose). It was a two and a half hour experience that, like I said before, left me thinking it was a beautiful symphony of art, rather than simply “substance.”

 

 

 

 

Trucking our full and happy butts up and out of the restaurant, we ventured into The Brooklyn Brew Pub to enjoy a Sixpoint Sweet Action and discuss future plans and my flight that following day.

New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina on a small plane, bumping gently and enjoyably the whole way – I was about to be carless, homeless, and friend-full for the next ten days.

What brought me down to the Piedmont was a gathering of college friends that I hadn’t seen in about a year at maybe the perfect location: a lake house equipped with a great kitchen, porch, dock, and water Carolina waters. We danced and chatted and caught each other up rocking in chairs back and forth. During the day, we ran and drank coffee and water-skied and prepared delicious midday meals. Massages for everyone and really, just a house full of warmth and support. I couldn’t have come into a more comfy-cozy return.

Once day, Galen, LZ and I turned down the early morning water skiing offer for a grocery store run instead. We planned on picking up the rest of the ingredients for lunch and dinner for the next two nights. The only problem was that none of us had specific meals in mind and all of us are indecisive.

Strolling aimlessly in the Piggly Wiggly for a few, we decided on burritos for dinner, and hummus-based sandwiches for lunch.  The burritos were something I became really excited about: I hadn’t had any Mexican food in Seoul (save the free chips and salsa I pounded one night), and I was craving that spicy sting and hearty bean flavor. Bumping around the store, we found the tomatoes, onions, peppers, cheese, black beans, red beans, rice, lettuce, limes, chives, and mint we were looking for. We also snagged a few peaches for the salsa and a few sweet potatoes to roast and throw in too. If we were doing burritos, we were doing real hearty, I-don’t-think-I-can-move-now burritos. And a side of watermelon. I mean it’s summer, after all.

 

 

Chopping away at the chives and onions, we put some music on, danced around the kitchen happily, and found hot sauce in the cabinet. When the rest came in from the day on the water, we were ready to sit down, and feast with ten good friends, and great relaxing stories.

The burritos themselves turned out great – deep flavors stemming from the sweet potatoes and beans, met with vibrant sweet touches from the peach salsa, combining with the crispy crunch of the green peppers, onions, and lettuce, all topped off with your choice of smooth cheese and potent spice. Couple this with a nice beer, gin and tonic, or margarita and you are in the market for a wonderfully content-laden evening to watch sunsets fall over lapping lakes. I highly recommend it.

A Relaxed Balance


Amongst any hectic time schedule, there always needs to be time for a little relaxing. Some find that relaxation time in large chunks, called vacation. Some find it every day, like my family sitting on the porch with a couple of refreshing adult beverages discussing the day and getting ready, mentally, for a dinner of epic local proportions (see: CSA fresh meats, greens, roots, etc.). These days, I find it either in my long runs along the flooded Han river, or sitting down to a nice big, cold bowl, cup, or measuring cup of potbingsu.

Consider this: about a month ago, I continued my playing host to multiple friends and family members coming through Seoul to see me, their own family, and onto different places. My friend, Julia, had an extended layover between LA and Beijing in Seoul. I’d say she was both in the position prime to run and explore and see, and try to find that balance with relaxation. (See: vacation).

We wandered around my favorite neighborhood and played tourist and made efforts to see all of the most important places, but when it came down to it, the most important thing was not the place, but the people who surrounded her. So, accompanied by another mutual friend and Seoulite, we took to cafes to beat the summer’s heat. It was hot, not too humid, and the perfect time to find our way to relax in the middle of the day. Iced coffees: those were no-brainers. But food? Not hot soup or heavy rice or even quick street food (not because that doesn’t appeal to me, but because we had already had all of those by this point in time), why not ice cream? Not special enough. Why not potbingsu?

Yup, did it again, introduced one more new food to the increasing glossary of Korean cuisine. Potbingsu is made up of things you, dear readership, should know by this point. Ready? Ice. Yup. Fruit and Nuts. Okay. Sweetened Milk. Still there. Ricecake. Getting a little colder. Ice Cream. But I thought you said Ice Cream was too simple! Red Beans.

Remember from last summer where I had no money and yet I just had to have a red bean paste donut? I still do. Well take that ingredient and don’t pound it to a past, rather just let it be.

Doesn’t sound like the most appealing thing all deconstructed, but together, it’s divine. The cold shaved ice silts as a mountain of neutral, refreshing foundation. Fruit is then scattered around the outskirts of the peak, accompanied by chewy-semi-sweet-rice-cake. Can’t wrap your mind around what a rice cake is? Think about a piece of Wonder bread. Now think about smooshing it into a little ball. See how small it gets? Now do that to a spoonful of rice pudding. Voila, a thought experiment in making rice-cake.

Smothering the fresh fruit and Wonder-bread-smooshed-rice-pudding are the syrupy red beans. And what sits at the top of the whole hoopla? Ice cream of your choosing. Some go vanilla. I go Vanilla with green tea powder.

With three spoons attacking the snowy peak and fruity debris, the bingsu was done in no time, which left us plenty of time to sip iced coffees, catch up, and… relax.