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~