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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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.

How Perfect

It seems ironic — to a large degree — that I would be writing about a near perfect day, seeing as yesterday was anything but perfect. But the good days have to come with the bad, and there are some days that work out perfectly. Or almost perfectly, seeing as perfection is all but attainable.

Start: a wake up call from the rising sun through my window to which I see crisp blue skies and a few birds flying by. Note: yes this day is going to sound over the top with details such as “a few birds flying by” and yes, they are all true. Note: I didn’t prepare for such a perfect day so the pictures are limited. Enjoy the words.

Finding a cup of coffee already made out in my kitchen, I strapped on my running gear and headed out into the beautiful Brooklyn day for a seven mile run around neighborhoods and through Prospect Park, which was comfortably full of runners, joggers, walkers, talkers, bikers, players, loungers, and horses. Pause.

Restart: A nice shower and a clean room at my fingertips, I headed out with my roomie to find my new guilty pleasure at the little local coffee shop on the border of Bedstuy and Clinton Hill: a chai latte with a shot of espresso. Dirty Chai, she called out and I laughed at the name, and ordered one for myself.

The uncapped chai-coffee lasted maybe two blocks on our walk to a mecca of relaxation deep into Bedstuy: a closed spa (50 dollars for an hour long massage ain’t nothing to sneeze at), hair salon, café/brunch spot, and a Candela store. Perfection.

We didn’t tend to our appearances, rather we ate brunch at this café which was named none other than the “Biggie Bedstuy Brunch.” Belgium waffle, turkey bacon, cheesy eggs, maple syrup, two coffees. We listened to good music and talked about new neighborhoods to which to move. I laughed too loud a few times and made the counter person look my way. After a delicious brunch, and buying a piece of their carrot cake (which was about three pounds of cake) for the later times, we headed out and I met up with a dear friend to walk around Park Slope and find a place to sit and talk and catch up and plan and.

We tried a few coffee shops but, anywhere and everywhere in Park Slope is nonstop laptop-ville. Honestly we walked into three places only to find twenty or thirty people with twenty or thirty computers, staring, listening to music, “working.”

On ward ho! We made it to café Grumpy in Park Slope which does a delicious pour over and a wonderful Flat White (like a cappuccino or cortado but less milk and more foam).  Note: carrot cake still in hand.

Two hours later, after telling stories and the like, I had to book it back to Fort Greene to set up a CSA distribution. Carrots and Parsnips and Beets and Celeriac and Rutabaga and Spinach and Onions and Garlic and Potatoes were on the menu this time. So for that, I sat at the bar, drank a glass of red wine and made little recipe cards. Soups! Next time, maybe some coconut milk kale. Note: carrot cake still in hand.

The distribution closed early, so I headed out to meet up with an infant weekly supper club with a friend from years ago. We had the hardest of times trying to figure out a place to go. Our conclusion? The Dutch in Soho. It’s delicious with an amazingly vibrant space.

We didn’t have any reservations, but we charged our way through to the bar and waited for a table. Only four sips into an amazing rum-bitters-orange drink were we being asked to sit in a corner table overlooking the whole bar area. Perfect.

The menu was unreal. Lauren and I tried to narrow it down, but really we could only take like three things off the menu. Instead, we decided to do two fried oyster sliders, one appetizer, two seconds, and…. Two desserts.

Note: Lauren and I aren’t what you would call big eaters at first glance. The waitress didn’t flinch and wished us luck. We drove through every bite.

Three hours after we sat down, and steak tartar with romaine, quail egg, olives, homemade Caesar, and short rib pot roast with golden turnips, stout and caraway and red wine reduction pan sauce, and beautiful halibut with yuzu butter sauce, tobiko, winter garden vegetables, and sour cream apple pie with walnut ice cream, and toffee cake with a grapefruit glaze that I want to recreate later, we reveled in the fact that we didn’t need reservations, and just had a symphony of flavors from drinks to oysters through to dessert to the fact that we had sat there long enough o have digested some of the food and not felt too full.

Hopping on the subway home after making sure that we were going to do that again next Monday, to make the day more perfect, I stumbled on the same car as my roommate. I wore her hat, and we told each other about the day and spoke too loudly and accumulated some stares and didn’t stop talking until we parted ways in our kitchen.

How. Perfect.

 

 

 

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.

Little Muffins, Big Cities

Food and eating are almost inseparable from memories, personally. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but yesterday’s adventures in banana-bread town lead me back in time to the week right before I moved to Seoul.

It was summer time in Brooklyn, which meant hot and humid days filled with an irresistible desire to be outside, exploring, around fresh food, wearing tank tops and flip flops, and with friends eating cold ice cream. Farmers markets were opening early and serving many samples of peaches, strawberries, and cherries, and an iced coffee always seemed like the right thing to drink.

By chance, I met up with two amazing fantastic crazy incredible friends in a farmers market only to wander around the city, dipping in and out of grocery stores, and finding out way back to one of their houses. They had just gotten off the Long Trail in Vermont and were in heaven with all of the choices they had, food wise.

“We met up with two awesome hikers.”

“Yeah, they were great, funny, and so nice.”

“I think we should bake them a banana bread and send it to them.”

“Let’s find a recipe.”

Off to the cookbooks they went, with me in tow. I suggested epicurious, they got out their big Joy of Cooking, and we found the right recipe: simple, but it had everything we needed.

We baked and laughed, and drank cold water and hot tea. We made kale chips as we waited and had a Caprese Salad too – indulgence at its best.

By the time the timer went off the room had filled with the deep, warm smell of cinnamon, sugar, and baked bananas. It was comforting and appetizing. We let the quick-bread cool on the granite counter top and anxiously eyed the hearty confection, wondering who would be the first to try it.

As I bit into the sugary-crisp outside, and I found the gooey, yet fluffy, banana, cinnamon-laden inside that had hints of maple syrup,  I was thrust out of memory-town, USA, and was back in my Seoulite kitchen, with three mini-loaves of banana bread and one muffin. With a confection oven in my apartment now, no longer will I have to Macgyver my way through a baking recipe in a pan, over low heat. It’s the real thing.

 

Perched on the windowsill to cool, the little muffin had made the journey from Brooklyn to Seoul, finally.

 

Preparation (see: Procrastination)

I start my job this coming Monday. That means summer is coming to an end; the life of waking up and doing whatever I want (so sue me if I get up at 6:45 to run, go to yoga, and the farmers market before lunch…) is slowly crawling to an end. In a week I’ll have 6-8 hours scheduled.  I’m really quite stoked to start my job seeing as I’ll be teaching in Seoul. Really, my life is about to encounter a huge shift in place, culture, activity, employment, and cuisine.

I’m really excited about this change, just worried about the remaining preparations. The thing is, I’m a procrastinator. If you were to take a look at my “To Do” list, it’d look a little like this: learn Korean, pack up my life for a year, get my visa, get acquainted with my teaching materials, say “peace out girl scout” to America for a while.  A little much, given I leave in four days.

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