Friday, September 17, 2010


Let me write that out: Five Thousand One Hundred Thirty-Six. That's how many meals I served in three weeks of building a Temple in the desert. We had a crew of 200. We built a Temple that was 21,000 square feet. And then we burned it, in what was one of the most spectacular Fires I have ever seen.

So yes, back from the desert. I say this often, but The Desert, She is a harsh and cruel Mistress. I don't think I would have agreed to do what I did had I stopped to think about it along the way. Instead I went headlong (as is my oeuvre, it seems) into the unknown, "blissfully unaware of my own peril" as Carlos Amigos would say. I still haven't calculated how much actual food I purchased, cooked and served. But here is what I do know:

1. I have an awesome culinary partner named Taz. Who saved the day more than once. Who battled the Eggtastrophy on the playa, and WON! (We lost 1500+ eggs to bad planning, broken refrigerators, and 110 degree heat in the worst culinary disaster I've ever witness on the playa) Who served with a smile when I couldn't, and who kept me sane when things fell apart.

2. I had the best kitchen team! There were lots of people who came into the kitchen to help. But there were some who stuck around most of the time, and they rocked it! Its so amazing to have people who can all work together like a machine, especially since we hadn't ever worked together before. People asked how long we had all been together, and when we said this was the first time, their jaws dropped. Part of me felt like Tom Sawyer a bit when I was asking volunteers to do things like roll 400 plus matzoh balls, or massage two cases of kale, or make 600 tortillas individually, by hand, in a 30+MPH duststorm. "C'mon, its fun! Don't you want to try"? And people DID! There were usually more volunteers than jobs to do, and I think it was fun for people to come out of the sun and off the project for a while, and do something different. A lot of people said that cooking in the heat and dust and wind made them feel better about what they could accomplish. I think that's what I like most about pre-event: that you are out there to do something, whatever it is, and that it's gonna stretch your limits and push your capacity, but it's also gonna make you a stronger person. You get to prove to yourself just what you are capable of doing.

3. I had the best kitchen out there! Not only did I have a fabulous work space that many hands help create, but we produced the best tasting, healthiest food on the playa. We served meals for vegan, gluten-free, AND nightshade sensitive people! We served raw kale salad with house made dressings. We served quinoa pasta with fresh swiss chard. I made chicken matzoh ball soup for 200 people. We made corn tortillas from scratch, and pressed them in a wooden tortilla press with our Temple's logo impressed into them. We did this in a duststorm of epic proportions. And still dinner was on time (playa time!). I has chefs from other camps coming to my kitchen asking for leftovers. Yeah, you wanna see Top Chef? Come out to the desert, and produce food for 200 people three times a day in that litterbox and we'll see who comes out ahead. Not sayin', just sayin'......

It's been a long road back as well, and re-entry into this world has been jolting for the most part. But all the kitchen supplies, the pots, platters, appliances have all been washed and put away, ready for the next expedition (in a week, when I cater a wedding...camping). I am happy at home here with my dogs. Happy to be at All The Comforts of Home Camp here in my little niche in Oaktown. I am so happy to be back, in fact, that it inspired me to do a All The Comforts of Home Secret Kitchen. So I am gonna do just that, on Sept. 30th, somewhere in the Bay Area. Check out "This Month's Menu" for details........

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May comes in like a Hammer.....

Wow. The entire month of May has come and gone without so much as a peep from this blog. Bad blogger! Of course, one doesn't much feel like peeping or anything else when recovering from having an abscessed tooth removed. Ugh. May was a long month of ups and downs, trials and troubleshooting and not much cooking.
June, though, seems to be shaping up a bit differently, with a (vegan) art opening, a wedding and few other events to keep my knives sharp and my hands busy.

I did though, try out a few recipes in May that were delicious and fun. I finally had a reason to make home made PopTarts. I had seen the recipe on SmittenKitchen and so wanted to try it but since my hips and tush need no help in expanding, I had held off. Even with the clamorous pleas from my housemates and friends, I was vigilant. But then my friend Ted turned 40 and wanted snacks for his party and it seemed the perfect time to make them. I made two kinds: one with Nutella and one with Blue Chair strawberry jam. I also made them small 2"x3", so they'd be easier for snacking. The picture is of the ones I wouldn't serve to the "public", taken by my friend with his camera/phone thingie. Bad pic, but damn, they were delicious!

Since the party was held in a antiques shop (I was thinking more the 50's Modern antiques shop-not the 18-19th century French antiques that I walked in to) I wanted to make retro style food (plus, isn't that what's just sooo "in" food wise these days: neo-retro-interpretations of old American classics? Are you ready for something else yet? No, ok, then you'll like this). Since it was late night snacks the menu was simple: Mini House Made Meatloaf Sandwiches with Swiss Cheese and Honey-Mustard, Mini Pop-Tarts and a Popcorn Bar with all sorts of fancy oils and toppings. I even made my own Kettle Corn topping, which, if I may say so, was pretty good. I still have some and am looking forward to the next Movie Night here at Chez D'Pi.

So this is the way I apologize for no Secret Kitchen in May.

June's Secret Kitchen promises to be a SWEET time though! June is national candy month, it's also Soul Food month and June 16th (the night of Secret Kitchen) is national Fudge Day! Need I say more???!!!???!?!?!
Please see "This Month's Menu" for the details.

Friday, April 23, 2010

..and Secret Kitchen is born~

So it really happened. After months of talktalktalk about wanting to do an underground restaurant thing, it finally came to fruition! whew! Secret Kitchen got off to a smashing start with the participation of a lot of good friends. I will have pictures forthcoming. I've never had to deal with photographers in a kitchen. Fun, but man are they insistent on their lighting. sheesh! I was just trying to get 30 plates out at once! It was a good night, and I heard reports people were a bit "fuzzy" in the morning.
It was fun for me to cook for five days straight, making things I had never made before: a gastrique, beurre blanc (with lemongrass), braised pork belly (a three day process worth every step!), and chocolate spikes. But through it all, it was the soup that was the real winner. I don't know what it is. I didn't think it was especially great, it was good, but it was roasted asparagus soup, and still the overwhelming favorite of the night. I have soup foo. I am Souper Grrrl. Seriously. Ok, not so seriously. But dammit if I am not going to do a whole meal of nothing but soups! Soup app, soup entree, soup veggie/starch and soup dessert. Just you wait.
Anyways, the dinner was good, I was happy with most of the evening. I could have used another chef in the kitchen. Another set of skilled hands would have helped me in the kitchen part. I had rock star servers and help, but because I am a Female. Dominant. Aries. Chef. I tend to have some issues with control and letting go. (No, grrrl, you don't have issues, you gots a whole subscription!)
I had capped the dinner at 20 people, thinking that would be a good number to start with. I had 24 for dinner all told. And that was with four last minute cancellations! What I liked was that people were sitting at long tables forced to talk to strangers. There was a lot of new connections and shared laughter which is always what I want at my dinner tables. So despite all my fears and anxieties and melt-downs, it was a rather tasty night!
And I have to say it's all Nara's fault.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cherry Tomato Tart

So like I said, it was raining the other day and for some reason it felt like a day to spend in the kitchen. Actually, when you live in a huge, drafty warehouse, its best to stay as close to a fire as you can. In this place, that's either the wood-burning fireplace or the oven.
I had seen this super easy but beautiful recipe in the newest issue of Food & Wine Magazine that someone in the house had thoughtfully left out for me to find. Or maybe it was a hint, I dunno. Anyways, I am all about this tart, being all about tarts in general, and also being all about cherry tomatoes. Really, I am all about all kinds of tomatoes. I am so excited for tomato season this year I have been staving off the desire to buy the first ones of the season. But then there's this tart looking at me, all glossy and beautiful and I think, ok, welcome to tomato season.
Having recently gone to Ikea with my housemate (where she wouldn't let me just go to the housewares department and shop but made me go thru the entire upstairs telling me "We don't know what our lifestyle options are yet!") and purchased a lovely new tart pan, I was eager to try it out. Its red. I like red cookware.
The tart crust was a simple flour, butter, heavy cream mixture. I can say that blithely only because I have a small cuisinart. Blessed Be the Cuisinart! Even though on mine the "on" switch doesn't work, so its all pulse or hold it down, its still better than cutting butter into flour. So yeah, the dough was simple to make. Chill it, roll it, shape it.
In the original recipe it was just cherry tomatoes on the crust, but of course I wanted MORE! So I tossed the tomatoes in a wee bit of olive oil (NOT extra virgin, btw, which I find way too strong flavored for most things I want to cook. I use a lighter olive oil to cook with a use EVOO as a finishing/dipping/dressing oil), salt & pepper. I put a few dollops of arugula pesto on the bottom-which was a mistake, too much liquid=soggy bottom crust-and then the tomatoes on top. I baked it at 400 for 30-35 mins.
When it was done, I took the basil I had chiffinadededed and toss it on the tart. Besides the soggy bottom, it was delicious. I can't wait to try this again with heirloom tomatoes which are starting to make their appearance in the stores and farmer's markets.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

En Papillote

One thing about me you should know from the beginning is that I get a bit obsessive. Big surprise there, I'm sure.
One of the things I have been obsessing over the last few months is the cooking method known as "
en papillote" which basically is cooking in a paper (or aluminum) pouch with aromatics and liquid. I don't know why this is so fascinating to me. Maybe it's because I like to wrap presents and open presents and this is like wrapping and opening presents that smell good and you get to eat! Who wouldn't love that?!?!
I've also given myself the awesome challenge of making twenty entrees "en papillote" for my inaugural Secret Kitchen dinner, so I figured I had a lot of practice ahead of me.
I had read about and watched a few videos on how to wrap food this way. And frankly, I realized I had been cooking this way for a long time when I cooked salmon in large aluminum foil packages with olive oil and lemons. Ok, so it shouldn't be that hard, so let's concentrate on what would make a great "aromatic". I used fresh garlic and ginger, the former sliced thin and the latter cut into small matchsticks. I halved and de-seeded a few small red thai chilies, and sliced meyer lemons very thin.
I made a quick marinade of chicken stock, fish sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar and chinese spicy chili oil.
I laid out a piece of parchment, and then stacked on top of each other: a dino kale leaf, thinly sliced purple potato (which had already been par baked), thin skewers of carrots, a 4oz piece of salmon, and the aromatics with the lemon slices on top to hold the whole thing together. (yes, this is where I wish I had any kind of eye for photography or someone in the household who did). I poured the marinade and some olive oil on each piece and sealed the pouches up. I had never used parchment, but wanted to try it. I was worried that I didn't seal them enough as you are looking for the paper to puff up during cooking and mine didn't look puffy enough for me I guess. The fish cooked fine. There were no leaks. The fish was a little dry and next time I try (in a day or so) I am going to use more liquid. I had only used about three tablespoons in each pouch, and I think I can use more.
Because this is California, and specifically Nor-Cal, I also used a specific aromatic that I will be using on the entree for my 4/20 dinner. I had trimmings that a friend brought me from a garden up north. I used a few pinches of this herb in the pouches and damned if the fish didn't waft that familiarly delicious scent..ever so faintly. Puuurfect! It smelled like all my favorite gardens put together.
I had two friends who tested the fish that night with me. Both said it was good, but needed more liquid, and only one could smell the herb.
Today its raining, so I am going to be in the kitchen all day. I have notions for small cherry tomato tarts (I found a recipe in Food & Wine, and can't help myself, they look so good!), and pork loin. I will also be making a few kinds of baked goods, banana bread and snickerdoodles for my never-ending bake sale.
Time to braid the hair and fire up the oven~

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Slow-Cooked Elk Roast

So my "wife" Kathasaurus moved to Austin recently. Before she left, she had a going away party in which we were told to bring coolers because Kat was damned if she was bringing her freezer full of meat with her to Austin.

Why is this of any import? Well, Kat comes from a family where most of the meat they ate was from game Dad and the Uncles had hunted themselves (I've been to her parent's house for Thanksgiving, with FIVE types of meat and not a turkey in sight). So this wasn't a freezer full of chicken and beef, but of elk, venison, pheasant and lamb. So, of course, I brought my biggest cooler to the party.

The freezer has been packed with all this meat for a few weeks. Its been a hellova start to this year, and I was feeling daunted by the thought of cooking game meat. I mean, I have always fantasized about having a place that served only game meat that I got from hunters I knew, (I can see it, all dark wood-mahogany-and white tablecloths. The kind of place where the bartenders wear suits.....sigh) but I hadn't really ever cooked game meat. I've cooked ostrich and buffalo, but I feel that any meat you can buy at Berkeley Bowl isn't really "game".
So today I pulled out the Elk eye of round roast that I had been defrosting, googled "how to cook elk". Turns out, the best way to cook elk (and all other game meat) is low and slow. All the big gaming and meat sites I found gave recipes for the slow cooker. Cool. Luckily, I have a large slow cooker in the house.

I put in the roast, these cute little potatoes that look like multi-colored stones, golden beets, multi-colored carrots, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a ton of garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Its cooking now. I'm going to saute onions to add to the finished dish.

To go with it, I'm making a savory bread pudding with roasted meyer lemons, kombucha squash and oregano. or maybe sage. I haven't decided.
I'll let you know how it turns 6 hours.

Ok, it was more like 8 hours later, but ohmygoodness was that good meat! My dinner guests thought it was pretty good as well, even though most of us didn't have anything to compare it to. The bread pudding (with oregano) with roasted lemons was fantastic. If you've never roasted lemons, I highly suggest it. I like to slice them and put them on veggies I roast in the oven, but in this bread pudding, they were amazing. I am going to do the same thing with oranges in my next round of bread pudding. Of course, that may be a while since I am trying to stay off all wheat. le sigh.