Unsuccessful Pranks: Seven Attempts

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 Break a prank down, and it takes an idea, planning, practice, patience, laughs, reactions, sometimes un-pleasantries, and success. Break an Unfamiliar Supper down and it takes an idea, a menu, planning, practice, patience and focus, many laughs, reactions, work, and success. It seemed  perfect that our last Unfamiliar Supper was held on every school kid’s favorite day: April fool’s day.

The day after Easter Sunday Brunch with a group of caring and amazing ladies, Lexie and I headed back into San Francisco proper, really into the heart of hipsterdom of the West Coast – The Mission.  Alex – a good friend of mine from High School whose message on Facebook prompted the whole trip out to the West Coast – had been so kind to open his home the night prior, allowing us to stay over so that we could get a fresh and clean start in the morning.  We woke in the morning to beautiful blue skies, an empty home and what we came to find out was an empty kitchen.

I had been emailing back and forth a few weeks back about who may show up, how many people, what the hosts wanted to eat only to get a lot of “We’ll get people there” and “Oh I’m so excited!” and “I eat every kind of food! Just not meat!” and even “Oh, you should check with Alex as to what they have in the kitchen because I think they have nothing to cook with.” As someone who’s life revolves around cooking and serving and feeding people and being around food, I didn’t really understand what “nothing” was when it came to kitchen supplies. They have a pot, right? Salt? Pepper? That should be all good. Turns out, they had next to nothing. Condiments and beer, that belonged to a roommate who wasn’t there, two pots, 20 forks, and no baking pans. “We have nothing.”

No matter, Lex and I were in for a small challenge, seeing as the space was incredible: huge ceilings, wonderful open floor plan, massive bay windows, open aired and comfortable kitchen. And seeing as Alex had been so kind to trust me with the place for the day to prepare, we started jamming out. Door open, fresh air, beat-filled music, and incredible ingredients from gardens, Berkeley Bowl, and the local Asian Market (Shout out to Duc Loi’s Japanese, Korean, and Meat departments: O! How I would live in that grocery store). It was a morning that encouraged all aspects of Unfamiliar Suppers, that is to say being in the kitchen cooking with amazing ingredients in a beautiful new city with a good friend and colleague is exactly where I belong.

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By four, the we had set up the mise-en-place with make-shift quart containers, two of the desserts had been made and were setting, I had run to the local Salvation Army to pick up a braising pan large enough to take Duc Loi’s full supply of short ribs that sat braising for four hours, the soba noodles were cooked and chilling, and the shitakes were marinating and preparing to be course one.  Thinking it was all under control, we stepped out for a few more things to get ready for the dinner itself: Tecates and burritos the size of babies. By five we were sustained and sated, ready for complete Unfamiliarity.

Complete Unfamiliarity in the sense that we knew only four people there out of the 20 that ended showing up.  But nothing brings people together (cue cliché) like food, right? Slowly but surely people started to filter in. Alex “found” a case of wine in his room to share with the crowd, people started to find their spots (see: couch, table, standing, what became a “chef’s pass”) and the supper began.

The first course: accidental mini banh-mi’s with roasted shitake mushrooms, fresh cucumber, carrots, and yuzu mayonnaise.  Tender, savory, slightly sweet.

The second course: Thai-style lettuce wraps with scrambled spicy tofu, with a hoisin-siracha glaze with cilantro and celery garnish. Fresh, bright, savory, with a touch of spice.

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The third course: Cold Soba noodle salad with a peanut sauce garnished with shredded broccoli, carrots, pickled shallots sliced nori, whiskey, pickled mustard seeds, and finely sliced snow peas. Hearty, filling, cold and refreshing.

The fourth course: Coconut Curry soup with Japanese Eggplant, baby shitake mushrooms, Thai basil, and cilantro. The perfect amount of mouth-coating savory sweetness with a bit of heat.

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The fifth course, and final savory course: Braised and Roasted Short Ribs rubbed in a hoisin glaze served with Mirin rice, nori, and a sesame fried egg. The meat literally fell off the bone. In all reality, the bone was just for decoration.

The sixth course: Cold brewed Earl Grey Milk Tea with Boba. Floral, mildly sweet, gorgeous texture.

The Last course: Matcha Panna Cotta. Honestly, what a perfect way to end an incredibly huge meal: soft, sugary creamy Panna Cotta with a hint of vegetal Matcha, coming with that caffeine to keep you up and digesting.

Three hours later, we had seen a lot of excited faces, heard a lot of laughs, received a few pats on the back, let ourselves enjoy a few Tecates, and only could pack up one Tupperware full of left overs. A success, with no hang ups.

There is no proper way to end this, except to say: THANK YOU SAN FRANCISCO (Alex, Max, Evan, Laura, Rachel, and Daphne. Thank you.)

 

unfamiliarsuppers@gmail.com if you want to set one up of your own.

Surprise Easter

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The facts: A month out from the trip, I contacted a friend of a best friend. She was a known foodie, and lover of parties/gatherings/get togethers. She lived in Berkeley or – as she ashamedly pointed out – Albany. She had Sunday and Tuesday free. We settled in on Sunday to host a brunch at her house for about 14 people. We wanted to do a nice three course meal, keep it relatively inexpensive, and keep the brunch drinks flowing. That Thursday before,  the number of people wanting to come dropped from 14 to 11 in basically an instant, and we didn’t quite know why.
The reality: Turns out, none of us had realized it was Easter Sunday.

With that little cognitive mishap out of the way, Unfamiliar Suppers wanted to give them the best meal they could have on Easter. Fresh breads for sure. Jams. Eggs. French toast. Berries. Bloodies. Bloody Marys as much as they could handle. Bloody Marys that demanded us to run out in the middle of service to go grab more supplies. Bloodies.

Keep in mind that this brunch was coming on the heals of the Berkeley 25 person dinner the night before. So as we fell asleep in a room just twenty feet from the kitchen we just prepped and cleaned in, we knew that we would be walking those ten paces in the morning to start beating eggs and kneading dough.

But lo and behold, we woke up with a spring in our step and sunshine on our faces to cook the best Easter Bunny Lovely Lady Brunch they had ever seen.

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Rachel’s house was amazing – beautiful huge windows, open floor plan, massive kitchen, outdoor patio, it was the thing of dreams for a supper / brunch club to come cook in. With most of the meal prepped at Laura’s house just a mile away, we got to out there around noon. By 12:30, ladies were enjoying fresh baked breads and Bloody Marys, sitting around a table illuminated by the sun peaking through heavy rain clouds. When 3:30 rolled around, everyone was happy, full, and tipsy off of Easter.

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The first course we put out was fresh sourdough toast with compound nori butter and maple-rosemary biscuits with rhubarb jam. A nice pastry board that had the savory butter with even a touch of umami from the dried seaweed, and the sweet rhubarb with a touch of tang.

Soon to follow came two gorgeous cast-iron pan cooked caramelized onion, cheddar, and swiss chard frittatas  with sliced avocado served along side a cucumber salad and potatoes roasted two ways: oven roasted potatoes with either rosemary, salt, and pepper or kimchi. Savory or spicy and tangy. The kimchi potatoes flew off people’s plates, even when only half of the massive slice of frittata was devoured.

The grand finale – oven baked bread pudding French toast served with maple roasted bananas, macerated strawberries, and whipped cream. Honestly who could say no other than an adamant gluten intolerant or severe lactose hater?

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What was incredible about this brunch, is that everyone was so happy to see each other, share stories, sit and revel in the fact that nothing had to be done today not only because it was a Sunday but also because it was a Holiday, and everyone was ecstatic about the food – they clapped when we came out. Clapped! it made me blush, no lies. Pictures snapped. Bloodies drank. Smiles shared. Naps planned.

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Happy Easter.

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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