South of the Equator

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When you get five cooks in a kitchen, some may think that is too many. Unfamiliar Suppers begs to differ. After two days and help from four cooks, sixteen people left a ten course meal stuffed and beaming.

To be frank, this meal was all devised coming off the heels of the last supper – Brian, an amazing cook, was so inspired and excited by Unfamiliar Suppers that he threw together an eight course tasting menu. He wanted to show off the flavors that didn’t come through in your typical Mexican, Peruvian, or Columbian restaurant. He wanted to talk through his food about the international influence of Chinese immigrants on Peru and the strong cross over of the use of rice, soups, and meat. Italy’s influence on Argentina is incredible, so were the dishes involving huge slices of Pork.

With a ready-made menu, we had to find the perfect host. We wanted someone who was easy-going, a huge help in the kitchen, and ready to get people excited about the huge tasting-menu. Who else but Miss Lois? Now that the crew was assembled, we met a few times and got straight to the food.

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Meeting on Tuesday morning, ready for a long day and night of cooking, three of us set out into the wild lands of Western Beef – a mega-supermarket that had deals for days and South American sections for weeks. Mexican spices, Columbian oils and sugars, pork that would make Brian’s grandma proud… it was the perfect bulk store.

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After the excitement of three cooks running around a massive grocery store wore off, it was about three, and we were in desperate need of starting the prep. Brian leading Lois and I, we had big plans. Stocks and desserts done, vegetables chopped and peeled and julienned and bruinoised, herbs picked, pork braised, the prep list was as long as – and for good reason – a professional kitchen’s. It wasn’t all work and no play, though – we had some adult beverages and jammed out to bad music, and I finally listened to more than one Bob Dylan song… for shame. I know. For. Shame.

The next day, after a few peaceful hours of sleep, three of us met up at the Farmer’s Market in Manhattan. If the grocery store was like kids in a candy store, the three of us set free with little monetary limit in a Farmer’s Market was like those boys in Lord of the Flies before things went so terribly wrong. Fresh breads, gorgeous sprouts, hearty root vegetables, colorful carrots, delicate greens – we needed it all. As Brian said “We are just looking for things that are beautiful. We want to make this beautiful.”

With no more than three hours left before people started to trickle in, I felt so secure given that last supper was literally thrown together in two hours to great success. The amuse was prepped. The dessert needed only a quick fry. Soups and rice dishes were as ready as any restaurant would have had them before a big hit on Saturday night.

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By 7:30 most people were there, candles were lit, and the dinner commenced. Amuse course: crispy fried bread with a reduced South American mirepoix of peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. A quick three bites to start the meal – crispy, slightly sweet from the tomatoes, and wholly robust from the garlic and onions. First course was a beautiful roasted vegetable salad with mache, sunchokes, parsnips, carrots, and beets. Sweetly roasted, a slight acid bite from the mache – a gorgeous first course. Second course followed closely behind with raw sliced apples, pan roasted Brussels Sprouts, fried pancetta, parmesan all over a gastrique. And that concluded the small delicate courses, since the following bean dish started to hit hard. Trotters and tails and beans all cooked together with whiskey and beer and maple syrup set the tone for the rest of the evening. Nonstop food. We were not playing around anymore with light bites, but rather we were bulking up for the winter’s cold.  Courses kept coming, piling on top of each other, almost relentlessly in the best of ways. Major entrees with huge flavors followed by major entrees  with just slightly bigger flavors flew out of the tiny kitchenette-turned-commercial kitchen just tempting you to try to finish that last bite. Oh, you just had seven handmade gnocchi? Why don’t you try that slice of pork and that bowl of chicken soup and maybe a dinner’s worth of fried rice? Luxury and decedance was the name of this game.

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Four. Hours. Later.:  People were taking spoons full of a savory-sweet rice pudding from my hands and preparing for their final dish: dessert. I had walked around fifteen minutes before dessert making sure that people still had room. Small smiles and smaller nods said “sure, why not?” By the time Lexie and I walked around with a bowl full of powdered sugar, Mexican cinnamon, a touch of cayenne pepper, and freshly fried churros as well as a bowl full of melted lavender chocolate dipping sauce, people were trying to snatch a second churro. Despite the fact that most people just finished eight large courses, we had people demanding, not even requesting, a second and third helping of dessert – a success at the very least.

Wine, beer, and cocktails paired. Plates demolished. New faces met. Unfamiliar Suppers was a success.

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The Internationality of South America

Pan con Hogao

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Mache

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apples, Pancetta, Gastrique

Frijoles con Garra with Trotters, Tails, Plantains, Limes

Braised Pork with Roasted Apple Mash, Honey, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Caraway

Gnocchi, Chimichurri, Roasted Pork

Fried Arroz con Pollo

Sudadito de Pollo

Savory Rice Pudding

Spiced Churros with Lavender Chocolate

 

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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

Unfamiliarity


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Here’s my plan (maybe you’ve heard it, maybe you haven’t, yet):

In conjunction with 20somethingmeals, I want to cook dinners in unfamiliar places.

Explanations are duly needed, I acutely understand. What this will become is a traveling dinner party. A supper club for those who want the gathering to happen in their house, and an experiment in unfamiliar territories in both location, company, and culinary geography for myself.

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How it all boils down is: after being invited (but of course, I am a gentleman through and through) I will come over to hosts’ homes, tread delicately through their kitchen to find the cheese grater, the cutting board, the emulsion blender, and the dull knives. I’ll find out how accurate the oven may be, if the mustard in the fridge is past due — or that smell is just authenticity — and cook coursed-out suppers to fuel the host’s dinner party.

I buy the ingredients. I cook the food. I serve and talk about it. I’ll even pair wines (I’ve been known to do that a few times before).

The hosts need only set a date, talk to me about what kind of food they want, how many people might be coming over for their dinner party, and I’ll do the rest.

The caveat? None, other than I might take pictures of the food and write about it later.

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In return, I’ll put out a donation jar just in case the food was that good.

If this sounds dope, or cool, or on just plain swell, email me and we’ll start thinking about what foods you want. The five borough are options. In the future, so are other cities… just sayin, my dear west coasters…

To suppers, in unfamiliar places!

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Unfamiliar suppers email: unfamiliarsuppers@gmail.com

And just in case you’ve ever wanted to email 20somethingmeals, there is an email address now. 20somethingmeals@gmail.com

Obsessed

Currently, I have three obsessions. Just three things that I constantly think about and have to hold myself back. Restrain myself from partaking in each and every day, every meal. And seeing as it’s a Friday, hopefully you, too, can go off into the weekend thinking about these things too…

Dough Donuts.

I would consider myself a healthy person. I run daily. I eat my fruits and veggies. I steer clear of over-indulgence. I have a glass of wine or beer occasionally. I hardly ever get too crazy with sugars (except for when I’m fresh off a run… I for some reason crave sugar like it’s my job. Cake? 9am? Back from a run? You bet your bottom dollar I’m there). I don’t get into really fatty foods cause they just made me feel all weighed down and lethargic. But, folks, I’ll put all of that on hold for a Dough donut.

Back in high school, I’d go crazy over Krispy Kremes. Then I grew up, and so did my taste buds. They’re good, but nothing to throw in the healthy towel for. I actually have this weakness for really good donuts, so if it’s an option, I’ll try a new one. I can resist those that I know (see: Krispy Kreme, Dunkin, anything from a box in a grocery store), but new ones I have to try. Have to. So at the farmers markets, I’m the one with a bag full of fennel and an apple cider donut, just for kicks.

Dough Donuts are something above all other donuts. I don’t care if I’ve tried each and every flavor, I will go back for more. I am completely obsessed. And the best part is, there are so many flavors. And we’re not talking just glazed and chocolate. No. We’re taking Hibiscus, Blood Orange with candied rinds, Dulce de Leche with slivered Almonds, Lemon Poppy Seed, Toasted Coconut, Chocolate Earl Grey, Chocolate with chocolate nibs, Cinnamon Sugar, Café au Lait, Berry Glazed… the list goes on a changes frequently.

And these donuts are simply on another level. They are large and yeasty with pockets of air built into their pillowy soft circular frame with slightly crispy barriers that aren’t too sweet so that the icing, the flavors can come through and pop. The dough itself is simultaneously a medium for the flavor, as well as an extravagant flavor in itself. Beautifully obsessed.

Consider: Brunch.

Of all things to be obsessed with, brunch seems like one of the last things to be all stir crazy over. I mean, it’s a meal. Anything can happen. But in New York, they take their brunches seriously. All you can drink mimosas and bloody mary’s to entice you in. Prix Fixe menus to excite the lavish diners. Tables that can be reserved for three hours as you wine and dine in the middle of the day because, well, you can. It’s Saturday. Or Sunday. Or any day of the week, seemingly for some New Yorkers.

Last Sunday I met up with a really dear friend, Mary, to catch up over a prix fixe menu at The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights. We each got different things, save the Dew Drop drink of grapefruit juice and prosecco. Beignets came out first, followed by a savory crepe of a light fish topped with dill crème sauce and a soft poached egg. To the side, cottage fries. Mary had an egg dish akin to Eggs Benedict,that was out of this world good with a cheesy Hollandaise-like sauce worth telling others about.

But it wasn’t this restaurant that got me all hot and bothered, rather just the idea of relaxing with friends eating good food sitting in perfect weather with light plans throughout the day, living the life of an affluent person, if not just for three hours.

I’m obsessed.

The last person I’m obsessed with: this girl. I saw her at a concert, and fell in love. I wish you could have seen her. She had an amazingly cute voice and played the ukelele.

Try them out. Dough Donuts. Brunch. And find this girl. She’ll brighten your day.