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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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.

Starting To Get Warm

When I look back on last winter, I remember a tiger onesie that acted as my heat – seeing as my Korean-style warmed-floor heat was broken – biting cold that, one day, left me crumpled up in a ball along the Han River rocking back and forth hoping for blood to restore to its rightful place in my hands, coats that never kept me quite warm enough, and some delicious foods. Kimchi and soup and stews and lots of barbeque. I remember some pitchers of watered down beer and the first endeavors into what was higher-class Korean cooking. I also remember a little venture into Thailand to escape the cold.

This winter, Brooklyn has been so much the kinder with mild days in the 30s and 40s and sometimes 60s. Runs in shorts and long sleeved t-shirts and coffee outside and even wind breaker jackets all create a thread of a winter affected by global warming. I mean, come on, no one’s kidding here – it is real people.

Sure we’ve had a few snow flurries and nights have become cold enough that I don’t want to bike home because my bare hands touching a metal lever to use the breaks doesn’t sound like a wining combination. But on the whole, this winter has been tepid. Luke-warm. One that, to my warnings for friends from California of “It gets so cold that you don’t even want to go outside despite the shining blue skies,” has left me a liar.

Until, really, now. Now it is cold. Now it hurts to walk outside with a hand exposed to hold the cell phone to my ear. Now I bundle down into my hood and jacket and sip hot coffee to warm my insides. Now I crave hot chocolate and hot cheese. Now I want for movies under blankets. Now I am a bear and start to hibernate.

No more salads, either. When it gets this cold, I don’t want “fresh” per se. I want cooked and soothing. I want comfort food, but not in the Southern typical fried cheesy mess that comes out with chicken and mashed potatoes and collards and corn bread and some pumpkin pie. Well, I don’t want that kind of comfort food, always – that is. More, I want warmed breads with local fat-full butter and a steaming hot soup.

With my CSA share (yes, folks, CSAs happen in the winter too! And it’s not ALL beets!), I’ve been able to explore some pretty amazing soups to help me through the cold days and warm me up after a long run. They also are great for freezing and moving forward in life with. Together.

The most recent soup adventure I went on was guided by my work place’s amuse-bouche. Before you start on your main meal (be that just an entrée, or an appetizer, too), the chefs come out and give you a gift from the kitchen to excite your palate: an amuse-bouche. Often a soup and some hot potato croquets, the amuse-bouche is a wonderful surprise and generous offer from the chefs of your meal.

They’ve been doing some potato-leek or parsnip soups as of late, and that just sounds splendid on chilly days. Rooty, nutty, rich, earthy; sustenance.

With the muse of my workplace, and the box of root vegetables sitting in the refrigerator, I took to a 400 degree oven with about seven parsnips, four carrots, one acorn squash, one onion, five cloves of garlic, seven potatoes, olive oil from Italy, truffle salt, pepper, and forty minutes.

On the stove’s top sat sixteen ounces of vegetable stock, ten ounces of water, two browned cloves of garlic, peanut oil, and sesame oil, with touches of salt and pepper. Simple seasonings, for simple goodness. Cliché? Sorry.

After forty minutes, the veggies (turned once during their stay in the warm oven) hopped into the veggie stock, and sat for another twenty minutes.

Armed with my masher (no immersion blender, yet!), I mashed my way through the squash, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic. A quick staycation in a blender with the help of about a quarter-cup of water per three cups of soup, made this soup a pureed dream.

Now, after only about an hour and fifteen, sits nearly ten cups of silky smooth, nutty (see: parsnips!), earthy (see: truffle salt!), slightly sweet (see: parsnips! Carrots! Squash!), umami based (see: sesame oil! Peanut oil!) soup with depth and a subtle burst of flavor.

In front of my third story window, looking out over the bare trees and setting sun’s light on the brownstones across the way, next to a window that lets just a small amount of fresh crisp frigid air in, I topped my steam-dancing soup with some parmesan and pepper and felt fully warm and content during the depths of winter.

Autumn Falling

It is October, and it seems like fall is just starting to creep in on New York. Normally, it is about mid August and people start breaking out the scarves, light jackets, and slippers at night to keep the mosquitoes and chills off their arms and legs, but this summer has been long and splendid. Because of the extended warmth, shorts and summer vegetables have been abound, but it was really this weekend that the chills started up. After a long shift, biking home was just a bit too chilly for me. Long socks have become more of a necessity than  fashion choice. And thinking about dinner, I started to think about soup.

It’s a sign for me that seasons are changing here when my culinary cravings turn autumnal and to a stove topped with a big pot full of soup or stew. During the summer, I always want fresh and raw. Light and crisp. Health and savory. But last night all I wanted was something comforting. Something that touched my soul with a warm hand and gave me an internal hug. So, I turned to a recipe I’ve been thinking about for a while: the combination of French Onion Soup, Childhood Lunches, and a touch of gourmet-ness.

After an afternoon of street festivals, candied apples, and bundling down into a down vest, I turned to my stove at five and started roasting tomatoes, garlic, and basil.  I poured some vegetable stock into a blender and starting to caramelize onions on the stove top with olive oil and kosher salt. After a half hour at 400 degrees, the tomatoes (both canning tomatoes and cherry) were roasted, smoked, and absolutely delicious.

Yes, folks, I was on the path for some tomato soup. Childhood lunch, check. But what was so French Onion Soupy about it? When the tomatoes went into the oven, I also sliced nine pieces of baguette to let sit out and crisp up. Around five minutes away from tomato roasting completion, cheddar cheese found its way from block to grater to plate in anticipation to act as the crowning top to my baked roasted tomato soup.

With no mugs that might withstand the 400 degrees chamber for twenty minutes, I poured the tomato soup into mini-loaf pans, topped them with three slices of crusty baguette and sprinkled raw cow’s milk cheddar over top. Twenty minutes later, I had three serving of soup that satisfied the grilled cheese and tomato soup desires we all have on crisp evenings. Accompanied by a night of live bluegrass music, this evening left me excited for the autumn to fall.

 

Topped Tomato Soup (aka Childhood in a bowl)

6 tomatoes

½ pint cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic

Sprinkle of basil

Slice all of that, roast in an oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes

 

2/3 cup vegetable stock

1 red onion chopped and caramelized

Kosher Salt

Add the tomatoes to this in a blender and pulse until combined

 

1 baguette, sliced and left out for at least an hour

Cheese (cheddar, gruyere, chevre, feta all can work)

 

Pour the soup into an oven-safe dish and top with crusty bread. Top that with the cheese. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes.

I also served this with a balsamic sautee of mushrooms, bok choy, eggplant, and garlic. It was a nice, deep, compliment to the brightness of the sweet soup.

Unconventionally Korean

This is the fourth Thanksgiving week I’ve spent away from home. Once in Scotland. Once in North Carolina. Once in Italy. And now, once in Korea. Every time, though, I’ve managed to be a part of a binge-worthy meal. In Scotland, we spent all day cooking in a small University kitchen, and for good worth. The turkey and endless sides were enjoyed for hours on end in the soggy air. The Southern Feast was everything you think it would be: a decorated dining room table filled with home-cooked sides and a twelve-pound turkey for six and couches close by.  Italy was a meal started after classes, at 4, and not eaten until midnight, but enough wine to keep us content until the fennel, potatoes, and turkey came out of the oven.

And now Korea. Now I know Thanksgiving isn’t for a few days, but since I’m so far removed from Western foods, I need a week to prepare. I need each and every day to figure out what I’ll be cooking. This process is a lot more complicated than you might think. I want to cook: green beans! Yes! That’ll be easy! But then finding green beans is almost impossible. I think: mashed potatoes! Easy! Yes, but finding reasonably priced butter is almost out of the question. And rolls? Well, those I can find, but the flour over here is just a little off, that those dinner rolls just won’t be the same as grandma’s.

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Its All About The Banchan, Baby


“Hey, where do you want to go for lunch?”

“I don’t know, I think I’m feeling Korean food right now.”

“Yeah, me too. Do you know what you want?”

“Um, I mean I could do a jjigae, I could do a bap dish, I could do galbi, or shabu shabu.”

“Right, me too. How about…”

“Honestly, I’m just in it for the banchan. You know me, as long as the sides are plentiful or self-service, I’m happy.”

That’s about what it’s like figuring out where to eat with me. I offer no help simply because I’m in it for the side dishes. Banchan – or side dishes – are really what make a meal for me. Sure I like the variations of rice dishes and the endlessly savory deep soups that taste like health, Earth, and delicacy all at once, but what I love is dipping my chopsticks into little side dish bowls, tasting the odang, variations of kimchi, the radish, bean sprouts, some root covered in delicious sauce, or the rare but delicious lotus root.

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