Sun and Produce

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As we rolled down an open freeway in Brooklyn or Queens with the sunrise sprawling out before our sleepless eyes, we blasted Notorious B.I.G.’s Goin back to Cali and listened to the lyrics mimic our lives “we got the 7:30 flight.”  We started to question the idea of staying up all night for 7:30am flight, but by 11am San Francisco time, after a smooth and restful flight, we were satisfied: we made it to the west coast.

My friend, colleague, and cohort in Unfamiliar Suppers headed west for one reason: to cook. Or rather, to cook, eat, catch up with old friends, run on the beach, soak up much need vitamin D, explore new neighborhoods, listen to live music, gather produce from vendors and gardens, and drink Tecate. That last one wasn’t foreseen, but turns out it happened more often than not at our suppers.

Why west, though? Why not south? Or even to Texas? Back in December of 2012, I wrote a blog on what may be called the first Unfamiliar Supper, well the first proper one at that. A dear friend in San Francisco so kindly mentioned it to all of his friends and got them excited about it. My last words on that social media monster, Facebook were “name a date, I’ll hop on a plane.” A month later, I had bought a ticket for Lexie and myself, and we had one gig in our planner: The last weekend in March we would be cooking for Alex, Max, and his house.

The rest started to fall into place over the upcoming weeks – turns out my university has quite a large chapter of alumni out in the Bay Area, and most remembered liking or at least standing my cooking. Now that I had made it semi-official with a whole Supper Club, 25 people signed up to eat a four course meal the last Saturday of the month, in Berkeley, at one of my kindest, sweetest friends from college’s home.

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The last meal, a Sunday brunch, became – in my mind – one of the most memorable Easters in my memory. Fourteen lovely ladies gathered around a table, chowing down on three courses and enjoying the festivities of Bloody Marys and each other’s company.

Over the next week, I’ll delve into each of those Supper’s ups and downs and pigs’ heads. Until then, consider this scenario from a New Yorker in the middle of winter. How happy would you be?

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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

 

Check us out on Facebook now, too!

 

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

News Flash

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Dear ones dressed in Santa hats, lighting menorahs, checking your emails religiously, and oh-so-thankful that the world hasn’t in fact ended,

I am cooking another supper. The location has yet to be determined, as have the guests. The only thing I know is the menu.

What I need to know from you all is: are you around these holi-days, and would you like to feast with me in an unfamiliar place with mostly familiar faces?

If you’re interested, send a quick note my way (e.g. Hi bud, I’m here until the 24th, and get back the 28th. Thanks brosef). Also, let me know if you want to bring a special someone along with you.

Peace, Latkes and Apocalypse-Blocking Eggnog,

hamlet, U.S.

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

Story Time: Red Rooms and Snazzy Shoes

There are some days you need to treat yourself. Feel Good Friday. Sunday Funday. Thirsty Thursday. Whatever you want to call it, there are days for decadence.

In the middle of a never-ending shift at one of the restaurants I find myself in far too often, one of my dear sweet friends, turned to me adorned in her Egyptian-inspired apron/smock and asks “Do you want to go out to dinner?”

Yes. Of course yes. She tossed a few ideas around, but really they all landed on the same name at the end of her catalogue. “Here, here, here, or there?” “Oh, I had an idea, there!” “I would love to get a cocktail and a few snacks here or, really, there.”

With a few friendly phone calls, we were in at 9 o’clock at night for a feast that would leave us waddling out of the restaurant a half hour into the next day.

We got out our restaurant around seven, so with a glass of wine in us, we got ready, listened to the best and worst of current music, and headed over.

From the moment we walked into the restaurant, we felt important. It was the atmosphere of sophistication and a presumption that we, that is all of us that roamed and mingled around tables for two lit by small Tiffany-impersonating lamps, belonged there; we made it in life and could spend frivolous moneys on small portions of huge flavors.

Since the beginning of my endeavors, my journeys, into the food worlds – I have wondered what exactly was the preferred way to go about eating the perfect meal paired with adult imbibements. Cocktail, sparkling, white, red, dessert, espresso? Sparkling, cocktail, white, bigger white, red? Should hard liquor even play around with the amuse-bouche? Should alcohol even be around food – if the food is good enough, why even tamper with it?

That last question, in the face of true eaters, gastonomes, all over is a laugh. Even the revered Gopnik claims “Dinner with water is dinner for prisoners” (31, The Table Comes First).

In any case, we took to the first option: a cocktail at the bar with her in heels and a fur and me in snazzy shoes and a collared shirt. Gabbing about nothing and musing about our shift and those around us – how exactly do so many 20somethings have enough money to afford SoHo lofts and TriBeCa two-bedrooms – we spent fifteen minutes soaking up the higher class.

Once at our table, a small table for two in the corner of what looked to be a French brasserie, carpeted red and cushioned with comfort, we told the server – a joyous man – to choose our menu. We were hungry and ready to see what people really get for all of the hype and accolades. First, playful starters. Second, delicate seafood. Third, decadence. Fourth, gluttony. The food was outstanding playing around with fleur de sel, foie gras, truffles, fruit de mer, butter, homemade cheese, and chocolate. Poach, Roast, Braise, Brine, Sear, Mandolin, Julienne, serve raw and true. Radishes and Cauliflower, Chicken and Mozzarella, Uni and Brussels Sprouts – really this menu did no wrong. Paired with a half-pour of beautifully crafted wines for each course – the accolades stood tall and my wallet couldn’t handle this more often than a few times a year.

We walked our ways through the emptying restaurant to coat check, put our winter wardrobes back on, and exited back into the real world, escaping what seemed to be a secret, satiating hideaway.

 

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.