Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The sound of music.....

   I know, I know, every other note seems to have a musical reference to it. It's hard not to. I am a rock and roll sort of chef. Music has alot of import for me. Sometimes I feel as thought it flows in my blood and creates beautiful pictures and  conjures smells and tastes. It's my "go to" muse when there is nothing else. Like most artists, artisans, craft persons, anyone who needs to have a source of creativity to draw from, I too need an infusion every now and then, of mind blowing proportions. Before it went " missing", a kind euphemism for stolen, I had an iPod with over a 1100 songs on it that was practically glued to my ears or plugged into a receiver to spill it into the kitchen. We also kept a library of 100 CD's.
   It didn't matter whether it was dawn, midday or breakdown /cleanup.....music made the day better and kept the pace flowing. A hard Saturday night would metamorphisize into a bleary eyed Sunday morning brunch with alarming intensity. My way of conquering the beast was a double hammerhead, VERY strong coffee with a double shot of espresso, walk over to the music and turn on Techno music, provided by one of my cooks cum d.j.. By the time my team would roll in, an hour to two later, Mozart could be on. Or The Allman Brothers, or cool Jazz. See it never really mattered what was playing, if it got my head to a happy place and the the food cooking, it was all good. Nor were we adverse to Gospel or Zen New Age.....it was where we were going, how long it would take to get there and could we sustain the momentum until it was time to leave.
  I don't know of anyone whose world or work day isn't made better by music. Doesn't matter the genre, as long as it floats your boat. It also as previously noted, can kick your creativity in the ass. I am very jealous of my musician friends who seem to have an unlimited flow of ideas and are prodigious song writers, lyricists and players. They probably have their demons and blockages, and where they go for inspiration dumbfounds me.
  I am also very conscious of what is playing in the dining room as well. The wrong kind of sound can trigger a bad dining experience, or good ones can transport it to a state of ecstasy. Too loud and it will cause the diners to elevate their voices over it and it becomes cacophonous. Too low and, well, no one hears it or is constantly questioning if there is anything to listen to. Too "modern" or radical and they're turned off. Too gloomy and they feels like they're at a funeral.
  But for cooking, we go all out. Nothing is out of bounds. Well, I did know one cook who hated The Eagles, but would almost silently suffer through one or two cuts before begging for a change. And, on Facebook people are constantly sharing tunes they've found or rediscovered, with friends just to say "Hey dig it!"  Even my students feel different if there is something in the background. If nothing else, it dims the sound of the overhead fans and constant din of the convection oven fans. So, yes, I love music, unashamedly so. And happy cooks make happy food. 
 Now, I am a Northerner by birth and frankly never ate grits till I moved South, and I have no idea where this came from, but once started it ran out constantly. Like a good song it's got layers and notes and and can get really creative when it's doing a freestyle jam.
Rock and Roll 5 Cheese Grits Chowder......ZZ Top or Allman Bros., makes this rock

2 c.......yellow grits...if unavailable use regular, there's a trick for getting it goldeny
2 c.......chicken stock.....water for vegetarians
2 c.......milk......wanna go lush?....cream.........
2-4 c...extra liquid, this will thicken as it develops,water will do, the others are better
1.........yellow onion, small dice
1.........red bell pepper, small dice
1 c......yellow corn kernels...canned or frozen is fine
S & P..to taste
2 tsp....dried pepper flakes
1 tsp....coriander
1 tsp... cumin
Turmeric.....as needed
1/4 c ..each...your favorite 5 cheeses.........Cheddar, Bleu, Parmesan, Jack, Goat, American, Swiss,
                                                                 leftover party tray bits.....it's YOURS, make it so.....the more 
                                                                 flavorful the better. I will go for the Bleu and goat,for sure ...                 .                                                                then you're on your own..........

Saute corn, onion and pepper, in butter, in soup pot
Add and bring 4 c. of stock and milk to a rolling boil
Reduce heat slightly and add a steady stream of grits, stirring constantly to prevent lumping
Reduce heat to moderate, stirring and watch out for bursting bubbles...it's molten
Add in cheeses, one at a time, incorporating thoroughly
Blend in remaining spices and correct with S&P.........if you want you can add more of each for a spicier kick
Thin chowder as necessary, but not too thin..it is a chowder and should have some "body" to it.

Remember, as always, this is your soup and however the music sends you, make the flavors yours.
And enjoy it!

As Always


Sunday, November 28, 2010

It can all seem, oh, so overwhelming

  I know this should be about the holidays, family pressure, missing loved ones, the stress of extra spending and cooking, and all that jazz. But it won't be.
   Honestly the past month, in and of itself, has bee a whirlwind. Not only do I feel, I'm somehow failing loyal readers, but at the same same, my academic demands have been very heavy. It is not as easy a some might imagine, to wrangle diverse personalities or abilities in a group of "adults" (read aspiring cooks or future chefs), into a cohesive team of professionals. Never mind coming home and trying to be witty and charming.
  First , there is the fact that they may not all be on the same plain. Some are there to just get a job when it's all over, others don't put any effort in at all, because they feel they are NEVER going to use what you are showing them, so why bother, and then there are those, who want to know everything and anything to carry them through their future careers. This makes for a difficult dynamic, to say the least. The first group will show a marginal interest, do a minimal amount of work, and make an attempt to pass. The second will bail consistently, leave early for "appointments" ( although I can't, and strive to make all mine after school or when off),shirk their duties and complain when they don't get the grade they feel they deserve. The third will overachieve at everything, coming early, staying late, asking, questioning and seeking to do the more than required.  They are a light in the dark.
   I expect that this is true with many fields of learning, but there is something about wanting to teach the new guard, the "keepers" of the industry, the protectors of our craft, that drives me to encourage all beyond their imaginations. You see, it's not a question of them "getting it", it's more instilling an understanding of the processes involved. It doesn't matter if it's baking and pastry work, cooking, handling the front of the house, or managing the storerooms and walk-ins, or planning a restaurant you may never have. Everything has a place and a meaning, in coping with the demands of the business.This is a very hard fact to impress on students. Either because they have never really had any contact with it, or they think it's just not that hard out there. Well, let me tell you a little secret......it is really hard. One of the most embarrassing things that can happen, is to be let go, "fired", from an internship. This means effectively, you are so incompetant, that even though they are NOT paying you, they would rather do without the extra hands. Brutal. But, at the same time, it should be illuminating. Unfortunately, some will not even recognize it, for what it is, a cold dip in the frozen lake of Wake Up! If you are consistently late, fail to adhere to the dress code (which is there for a reason), don't know what the assignment is, wander around is if it is you first day in a new place (on week 8), fail to read your measurements and processes correctly, waste time and product, marginally clean and then leave early, dumping clean up on your fellow classmates........well, that's just not where it's at.
  I spend a considerable amount of time planning lesson, doing research ( yes, I now I'm brilliant, thank you, but now and then even a diamond needs polishing), making up exams, projects and the like. I get up early to be there for them and make myself available after class to do post postmortems and give advice. It is enormously painful to watch people a third my age, drag themselves in, late, disheveled, ill prepared for the day, and fidgety during lectures......worse to watch performances on a sub-par level.  It just staggers the imagination.
  I mean why spend the money, or at least invest it in your future if you're going to waste the time and resources? Why? I am giving you decades of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to build your world on, why not suck it up in the time available?
   Also, I don't give a rat's ass if you think you'll never do this particular course ever in your lifetime. NOT the point. It's part of your degree requirements, so do it to the utmost. Even if you don't succeed in turning out a world class product, take pride in ATTEMPTING to do so. Any knowledge is gained knowledge and you might be surprised at what life throws you. Wouldn't you rather be armed with an idea of it, than left twisting in the wind?
   In the course of your profession, you will find that, the more you shirk your responsibilities to to your fellow team mates and coworkers, the more they will turn their backs on you in your hour of need. So don't wonder why. Oh yes, there will always be some who will be there to pick up the slack, that happens in all businesses, but that will only enable you to slack more and and effect all involved as a final result. Do you really believe that having some of your duties taken from and given to another will secure your position for the future? Time to put on the big unisex pants and make yourself necessary.
  And to the brave and caring and concerned for their futures. Good on ya. Don't think you're being ignored or forgotten. You take on all you can, regardless of your situations at home or work, show a consistent desire to learn and push through, accept responsibility and see it till the end and never lose your enthusiasm.You help make me what I am and keep me wanting to teach you more. The effort you put in really shows and makes me very proud. In the end, you will rise like cream to the top and be worth every drop. You don't even need to do any extra credit, because you do all you can to begin with, and yet you do. Brilliant!
  Now that the holiday break is over and we barely have 2 weeks till we're done, until next year, I hope you are a little more ready for what's coming. Finals and final projects, to insure you pass with suitable grades and evaluations. I have spent my down time getting these things ready for you. If you have not spent a few minutes a day getting ready for me, then I can only hope you all have photographic memories, because the last thing I want to hear, is that it's been too, oh, soooooooo, overwhelming.
With all the holiday craziness, shopping and eating, I won't put up a recipe.....perhaps bit later .... tomorrow is another day. 

All my love,

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Left to my own devices............

    Most people would agree, that being left to their own devices, will inexorably lead to trouble. Yeah, I can see that. I try to put a positive spin on it, not always succeeding, but having a hell of a good time trying.What's it all about, you wonder? There are times,when we find ourselves on our own. Our partners go off on business or events without us, for varying reasons We have time on our hands outside of our everyday plans. These can present unique opportunities to play or experiment. I say use them. No, I'm not suggesting we all run out to bars and get wasted and come home with something we'll regret the next day, although, for some, that's a tempting thought. Rather, explore the realm of creativity and resources never before thought of. Also, to revisit something that may not have gone well before.
  Stay with me now.....Seriously, when was the last time you took that cook book of the shelf, dusted it and simply randomly opened to a page, copied the ingredients, shopped and then made something? Or rifled thru Granny's old box of antique recipes and said, hmmmmmmmmm? It worked once, how's 'bout now?
  Better yet,try something totally off the wall for a future date.
These are the times, when we get to choose something that quells the longing for the loved one, shuts out the worries for their well being, stops us from wishing we were there, and gives us a sense of peace, and even accomplishment. It'll take up time,and produce something. So after the gym, the house, the pool, the dog, the reruns, the computer, et al, get up off your ass and do it.  Even just looking at all the pretty pictures can be inspiring. It can be likea trip around the world, without all the packing. It struck me, while working with my Culinary students, that our understanding of cuisine from other lands is severely limited and/or misunderstood. Mexican dishes, for example are NOT Spanish dishes. French is not Basque, or even one area in France. Moroccan.... definitely not African. So, while the man or woman is away, why not go somewhere yourself? The beautiful thing is, that instead of having pictures, you can have a dish ready for them to try when they get back.
  The Caribbean Islands offer a lovely microcosm of several different cultures and some wonderful tastes.

Cuban Black Bean Soup
1/2 c--green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1/2 c-- tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 c--yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves-- garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp--fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp-- fresh parsley, chopped
   Process the ingredients into a paste. If you need to let some aggression out, pound it by hand.

1 1/2 Tsp--Annatto oil ( if you can't find this, steep some Annatto seeds in 1/2 c of oil overnite)
2 oz-- salted pork
2 oz--lean ham, trimmed and diced
1 tsp--dried oregano
1 1/2 c.--dried black beans, cleaned and soaked
1 tsp--ground cumin
3 1/2 c--chicken stock
s & p
1/4 c-- minced white onion for garnish

   Heat oil and cook pork until crisp. Drain  and reserve oil and pork
   Put oil into a pan over a medium high heat, add the paste and saute of a few minutes.You want the vegetables soft and cooked but not brown. Add the ham and cook another minute.
   Drain and rinse the beans and add to the sofrito .Add stock,oregano,cumin. You want the stock to cover the beans by about an inch or two.
  Bring this to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. You may need to add more stock.
  Remove half the soup and puree, return to pot and simmer 5 or so minutes.
  Adjust the seasonings to taste
Back on the boat and cruise down to Jamaica

Jerk Chicken
1/4 c-- lime juice
1/4 c--water
3 1/2 pounds-whole chicken, cut in half
2 cloves--garlic, minced
  If using a grill preheat it. This can be on on a stove top in a heavy pan, or under the broiler.
Combine lime juice and water and rinse the chicken, rub it down with the garlic.

Jerk Marinade
2 tsp--pimento, ground
1/2 tsp--grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp--ground mace
1 tsp-- salt
1 tsp--sugar
2 tsp--dried thyme
1 tsp--pepper
1 c--green onions, chopped
1 c--yellow onion, chopped
1 whole-- Scotch bonnet or Jalapeño pepper
2 Tbsp--veg oil
  Blend or process all the ingredients till smooth. Again,Or..use a mortar and pestle like the natives do.It's a great work out.Pour this over the chicken and allow to marinate for 2 hours.
  Remove the chicken and cook by desired method. Grilling is the top choice, but the others will work. Cook till done.Cut the chicken into 8 or so pieces.
 *** You can cut the chicken up before marinating or buy pieces pre-cut for ease of handling.***

Fried Ripe Plantains
2--ripe plantains
Butter or oil.as needed

Cut the ends off the plantains, peel and slice lengthwise in half
Cut halves across diagonally in slices
heat butter or oil over medium heat
Add slices and brown on both sides
place on paper towels and serve hot.

Hearts of Palm Salad
1 Tbsp--passion fruit puree
2 oz--red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp--dijon mustard
4 oz--OO
salt and pepper to taste
  Whisk together and season to taste

dozen --Tomato wedges
1 can--hearts of palm, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2-- green bell pepper, 1/4 inch dice
1 -2 head--Boston lettuce,torn into med.pieces
1/2-- red onion, sliced thin...soaked in water for 30 minutes and dried
2 oz-- queso fesco
  Toss tomatoes w/ 2 Tbsp of vinaigrette
  Combine all ingredients and toss with with vinaigrette
  Arrange on individual plates

Coconut Rice pudding
1 can-- coconut milk
Equal amount of milk----use can to measure
1 measured can again--rice
3 eggs-beaten
1 tsp-ground cinnamon
6 tbsp-dry sherry
   Bring liquids to a low boil
Add rice and reduce heat, stirring
Simmer till liquid is almost absorbed
Stir in eggs, cinnamon, sherry and stir constantly over low heat till thickened
Pour into bowls and brown under broiler or use a torch
Can be served warm or chilled

This is a great way to enjoy the islands without leaving home. And when your partner comes home, you'll have some interesting tales to tell, as well as some good food to sample.

Bon Voyage,


Thursday, October 7, 2010

I get the best head and you can too..............

  The first day of Baking 101 can be a real twist.There's so much to absorb and grasp.Plus, who the hell wants to be there? Honestly? We all want to be home in bed, rolling over and resnoring. Not Listening to this science and biology and ewwwwwwww did she says sperm? uh, ectosperm? wazzat?  OMG she said manipulate...and knead.....and head...and warm and wet....wait, what is she going on about? Is this sex ed?????? Shit , maybe I will listen.........
  No baby, you heard right, it is baking and it is erotic as all get out. I will teach you how to great great head, if you pay attention.'Cause without it, it's gonna go all limp and collapse, and you will be so disappointed. Me too. I will show you how to use your hands and in ways you never dreamed and care for those silky smooth balls with the touch of a Geisha., and rise and practically burst for you.And in some instances, burst.
  You want to bring all your dry ingredients together, properly weighed and measured. Follow your recipe and make sure you have read the procedures.There's a difference. Recipes read like a shopping list or formula, procedures tell you what you will be doing with it. Make sure you have all your equipment, tools, and needs.
  Plus, you dont need a lot of space......keep tight, keep it controlled, take your time.
Now, make sure the water is right temperature.You do have a thermometer Nurse, don't you? Put it in...the water. 105 degrees.....nice..........perfect.....now mix in your dry yeast, and stir to dissolve. Maybe a pinch of sugar, to let it feed on. And walk away to let it do it's thing . Put all your dry ingredients in the mixing bowl with the dough hook.Set it on low to begin. Get tour bowl, put a little , a drop or two or oil in it and smear it around, set aside. Let's see, how nicely our head is beginning to rise. It could take as much as 7-15 minutes. I you keep the yeast in the fridge , it'll be a little sleepy......don't hurry, slow is good. Take your time. No need to rush. When you have a nice head going, think of a beer perfectly poured in a glass, the bubbles are growing and expanding, the smell intoxicating, you're getting there. Pour it into the mixing bowl and let it go about 5-6 minutes till it al starts sticking together. Scrape all the bits together and go up a notch in speed. We want to go faster to agitate and knead. Feel the bottom of the bowl, it should be warm to the touch. Another 20 or so minutes....aren't you glad I didn't ask you to do it by hand? There is a tool for just about everything. Right tool, right job. Not that the hand job isn't good, if there's no electricity, but it gets tiring.
   Now , let's touch it. It should be coming together in a smooth ball around the hook. Looks and feels too dry...a LITTLE water drizzled in............looks to loose?...you got it, a bit more flour gently added. Let it mix.
We're looking and feeling for a lovely, smooth, silky, soft ball. It should give to the touch. Turn it out into the bowl cover with a kitchen towel or plastic film, place in a warm spot...top of fridge, gas oven-off.. PILOT ONLY ...any where away from drafts or cold. Let rise double in size, could be an hour.hour and a half......no rush. You deserve a break. Have a bon bon.
   Ready? GASP, look at it, it's so big , so full.......don't worry, you can handle it.We're gonna get a little aggressive. Punch it down. Just once, that let some of the air out, no need to inflict damage.. Now turn it out onto a well floured surface. Divide in half And knead it.Gently but firmly, push it away using the heel of your hand, bring it back with your fingers.Feel it and breathe it, it's getting a bit firmer in your hands.BUT dont't overdo it, it'll get exhausted and tough and all that effort will retard its rising and we want it up there.And what's the point , if we can't get it up and finish it? Now shape it the way you want it. Either free form , rustic, or in a pan.
  Let rise again, till double in size, score the top, brush it with egg or cream, or leave it plain and dusty.
Bake in a 400-425 oven for 20-30 minutes, golden, and tap it to see if it sounds hollow... Cool completely.
  As with all baking, even boxes, there are variables we watch for. Heat, cool, humidity, dryness, freshness of flour, and yeast and even hardness and softness of water......ovens, conventional and convection, altitude. BUT, oh look at it, look what you've done, feel the relief and satisfaction flood thru you. Was it good for you? I was for me.....
And you'll be surprised by how soon you want to do it again. Maybe even try a new trick......or two.

Basic Bread Dough

1/2 c...water 105 degrees
1 tsp...salt
1 tsp..sugar
4c....flour, preferably bread, but A.P. will work
4 Tbsp O.O.

  Put yeast in water to rise and develop a head
  Add a pinch of the sugar
  Put all dry ingredients in mixing bowl
  On low or slow, add yeast water and mix. As it begins to come together, add in O.O. Mix for 5-6 minutes.
It should feel a little sticky, increase speed to med for 12-15 minutes, if it still seems "wet" add a little flour at a time till you achieve a smooth , silky ball. It should give a bit and not stick to your fingers, and come away from the side of the bowl.
  Turn out and knead a few minutes, form into a ball and place in oiled bowl. Cover and let rise1 hour,as much as an hour and a half, or till doubled in size.
  Punch down and turn onto floured surface. Divide in two.Knead gently a few minutes and shape. Allow to double in size. Score the top with a knife brush with egg wash or cream.
  Bake till golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
  Allow to cool on a rack.

And enjoy the hell out of it........'cause now you can get great head.....

As always ,

Will I pass?

    It's a really heard question to answer.I had a friend ask me,, if he took a class under me, would he he pass. I'm not sure he liked the answer. "I don't know". Seriously, it wasn't an insult to his talent or ability, it was an honest, immediate response..I'm incabable of lying......I get many different people coming into my classes of varied education, prior work experience, no experience at all, and all knowing of everything. Or so they think. When someone wants to learn from me, it takes several variables to do so. The first is, you don't know jack. And even if you think you do, it isn't going to help. Nothing you say is going to mean a can of beans until I see you preform. Nothing in your experience is going to prepare you for the dirth of knowledge I have in my arsenal. The places I've been, the chefs I worked for and with, the circumstances I've worked under. Besides, this is not a competition, so shut up and listen. And read. And study. And focus. Smart asses need not apply. People who want to make me a daily joke.........you are so dealing with the wrong bitch.
  I am a very warm and encouraging teacher. I do not enjoy berating or making people small. The worst example I can think of is the screaming, cursing, beat you till you cry like a girl chef, that does nothing to inspire. I carry a more frame of mind. But I do demand professionalism from day one. Clean, trimmed, sharp knives, ready to hit the ground running. I don't care if you set your clocks one hour ahead, if it's going to get you there on time or even early. Phones off, no outside food, eat before you show up or bring enough for everyone. And a HUGE cappuccino for me wouldn't be a bad thing. EVER!
  We have a sorry lack of cooks who care about what they're doing.They need to be taught what they must know in order to go out and CARE about what they are cooking. So I take as a personal mission to teach them.That  said, like little acolytes they should come into the kitchen with reverence and surety.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Food crack, porn and ....

    I was thinking about the last post on First Night and it dawned on me that it needed a prologue.That, began several days before, when I went to a food and wine show.Want to talk about raising your heart rate and getting your juices flowing? Talk about food crack! Don't get me wrong, I was amped about the First Night, but like a junkie, I needed a fix and I needed it right then. So off to the Big City I went, with two former employees, who are hard core foodies in their own right. After arriving at our destination, we ran like lovers into the waiting arms of Eros. Other eager supplicants merged around us, whispers of the awaiting pleasures circulated. Pointing here and there. Murmuring hints of the joys awaiting. Knowing looks from those that had indulged.
   Before us lay a virtual panopoly of sights, smells, liquids, colors and tastes.Our mouths salivated, fingers tingled, pupils dilated, bodies shook in anticipation.Where to begin? What to to do first? How to start? Like giddy virgins, we stood and looked at what was before us, a little overwhelmed at the prospect, but definitely eager to be educated. Perhaps a taste of that finely aged Bourbon or exquisitely seductive Mescal would take the edge off and help us relax into the zone. The tables of bottles and vintages rimmed the room and snaked thru the center, almost in an effort to engage and ensnare us. This would take a plan of action. Too much, too soon and all would be lost. Too little and......well,screw it, nothing ventured, nothing gained. To be among others who loved what they did, made what they loved, indulged in their passions.We were home.
   A heady, smoky Scotch beckoned us almost immediately, golden, rich, smooth as silk, its very scent whispering deep woods and heathery fields. The hickory wafted gently into the nose. The tongue holding onto it like a whore in an alley. It was hard to let it go. But it was far too early for swallowing, so it was spit out and washed away with clear, cleansing water.We wanted to be led gently, to be educated, to make it last as long as possible.We wanted lubricants, and kisses and soft words of encouragement. There came next the clear inviting fluids of  Tequila silvery, golden, amber; Gins with their herbaceous complexities, and pristine Vodkas in all their glory and diverse infusions. And oh, the Rums.......We sank into the rhythms of the Caribbean, the flavors undulating to the music of steel drums in our heads. Small batch, mountain crafted, high distillery Whiskeys....This could be very bad......or unimaginably good...Time to breathe, pull it back, take it slower and savor the moment.Turn away from the come hither glances.
  Assailed by a vision of the sea, we shyly approached a table laden with thumb nail sized lumps of jumbo crab, mounds of cold water lobster meat, Langostines and prawns the length of a mans hand, head intact, I felt a sensation of warmth growing deep and low. My desire heightened. I am a diagnosed nymphomaniac for the glory that is the ocean. "Go ahead, take one, if you think you can handle it, I'll give you all you want". I locked eyes with him, proceeded to peel the shell off, took the head gingerly in my mouth, and gently removed it without damage and laid it aside. I closed my eyes for a moment as the firm flesh lay on my tongue, it's saltiness and sweetness, almost pulsating and alive. When I opened them, he looked at me with satisfaction, and said come back, we'll talk more.TALK!!! TALK?????......DO it again, damn it!!!!!!! But no, I was being dragged away before I was left a quivering mass,
  We came upon an alluring plate of  Iowa grown, free range pork. Heirloom breeds of pure stock that have tremendous quality.The slow braised ribs gave up the meat like willing brides and we gloried at their submission.It fell apart at a touch. Our fingers, moist with their juices, dove into our mouths to be sucked clean. Sorry, did you really think a fork is the way to go? NEVER!! This is a full body contact sport. The taste, the texture, the sublimeness.
  Duck, Quail, Venison, the bounty of the forests, pulled us deeper and deeper, enchanting, inviting, captivating. Delicate bites, little tastes of heaven. Impossible to resist and lovingly consumed with delight. The path then winding down into the valleys. And oh, the New Zealand Spring Lambs! Beautifully Frenched racks, like succulent lollipops of meat, tasting of the sweet grasses they were fed on.The exquisite Shanks, thick as well muscled forearm, dripping with bewitching earthy juices. The incredible pink blush of free range Veal, with its incomparable flavor so lovingly done to a turn.
  My eyes rested on a small inviting table of Saki.Charming aqua and iridescent bottles of heaven. I had to.I needed to. The cold liquid woke my senses like a thunderbolt. This I could not let go of. The heat descended into my body like a lovers kiss. I felt myself, as if wrapped in a silk kimono, performing a ritual, I wanted to warm it gently and release its perfume, pour it into porcelain cups.
  We had to stop, to breathe, to assimilate, to calm ourselves... in order to go forward..........
Great vintages lay spread out before us. Huge reds, mind blowing in their intensity, enticing Pinots and Syrahs, Malbecs and more. Clear, shimmery whites cloaked in green and amber, oaked and unoaked, sweet and dry, even sparkling. Leather, lace, tobacco, buttery, grassy, fruity, herby, heady, delicate. Around the world in a nano second. Synapses on full fire. Senses approaching overload but still in check.The warm glow of foreplay leading to full promise coming on.
  I turned, as if touched by a guiding hand, to feast my eyes on pristine, glistening freshly opened oysters. They lay beckoning me on piles of crushed ice, and I stood transfixed. My hand timidly reached out to cup one and  my head lay back to receive the ice cold slippery meat. I held it quietly in my mouth absorbing the flavor, the texture,the whole encompassing sensation.and then let it slip down my throat. An involuntary shudder coursed thru my body. Believe me when I say, it was not in revulsion. Another  and another and another. I swayed. I felt possessed. Another plane of ecstasy was reached.
  A slab of sushi grade Tuna, the size of my thigh, almost burgundy in color, wet, gleaming and beckoning, held me in it's thrall. A small, thin slab was presented to me. So clean, so soft, so yielding, so clean, soooooo heavenly. Tiny petals of pickled ginger, laying in a dish to clean the palate, sat next, to it. Then followed gorgeous grass fed, hormone free Montana raised beef fillets. Black on the outside, blood red on the inside. Mouth watering tenderness, almost tongue crushable and alongside, Bison, fetchingly laid out for an added temptation. Fresh earthy bread to absorb the juices that were beginning to run down my chin was mandatory.We simply didn't know how much more we could take. Giddiness was setting in fast. We weren't drunk, but most definitely intoxicated on the sensations surrounding us. It was as if we had been making love for hours with brief respites to begin again and again. Being encouraged to taste more, learn more, enjoy more.
  On small toasts of hearth baked bread, simultaneously crunchy and soft, and spread as if butter, the Foie Gras terrine lay. It was exquisite. From the moment my lips touched it, felt its delicacy,and my nose breathed in its glorious scent I was transported. We each bit in gingerly, watching the other, as if afraid it would disappear when touched. It was almost too good to be true. Did we dare do try another bite? Oh hell yea!!!!! It was ambrosia. A small swallow of champagne washed it down, but not out. This had to be it. There couldn't possibly be more in this Kama Sutra book of food. Yet, as I stood there almost complete, I detected a familiar fragrance, that caused me to turn in it's direction.  And then .....there it was......the.final chapter........the one that had been so patiently waiting to lift us to the final moment.
    He stood alone, pristine in his whites, assured in his technique, master of his domain.I floated towards him, transfixed by his eyes, by his salacious mouth beckoning me on, more than willing to be taken. He cut into the beige white Foie Gras lobe with the precision of a surgeon, scored it lightly, sprinkled salt and cracked pepper over the top and deftly lifted it on a grill plate. It sizzled as it seared, in it's own natural fat, the perfume holding me as if prey in a cobras' eyes.When it had turned golden brown, he placed it on a small white plate and handed it to me. As he observed me, grinning and knowing, I lifted the gleaming morsel and held it. The anticipation of this moment was almost unbearable. My senses began to reel. The warm creaminess, the richness dissolving in delicate layers, the ultimate smoothness like no other as it came into my mouth, the sheer orgasmic pleasure my brain was experiencing. Pictures of falling back on to soft pillows, drenched in a sensuous after glow, gleaming with the joy of ultimate pleasure, a small smile of satisfaction on my lips, floated around in my head. He nodded knowingly. We were done, sated, wrapped in a blanket of exhilarating exhaustion and euphoria.
  There are those who would say I was a sensualist, that it is this trait, that makes me good at what I do.
Well, you may very well say so, I on the other hand couldn't possibly comment.


Monday, September 20, 2010

It was the first night..but not the last

     It took months of wishing and hoping and planning and dreaming.  It took getting thru a summer of malaise and despair, uncertainty and self doubt. Why?  'Cause I was being human.  There are times when even the biggest, brightest and most assured get a little down and doubtful. Do we still have it? Can we still perform at a peak level? Can we handle criticism if and when it comes? Are we second guessing ourselves?  Have I lost my muse?
     I didn't grow up in the most positively reinforced atmosphere. Rather the opposite.  Never smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Never. And weird. On a different plane or in a different time. Doing and thinking of things that were "50 years ahead of myself" Mom used to say. Like I was a freak. Well, maybe I am.     That's not an issue with me, I'm comfortable with my strangeness.  I enjoy bouncing back and forth in different zones, playing with different ideas.
     The odds of me ever opening another establishment are slim to none.  The sheer financial and physical demands would undoubtedly kill me and that wouldn't do anyone any good, so when I first came up with the idea of doing dinners for people in a "non-restaurant " surrounding or "venue" (a term everyone seems to have glommed on),  (a) I knew it wasn't new, (b) wasn't sure the climate would accept it, (c) didn't really care, because I had a crushing desire to do my food for people who missed having me do it, and were asking for it, and looking for a comfortable way to have it.  Are they're others at it?  Sure.  Am I as good or better at it?  uh, YES.  So it has begun.
     I'm not unfamiliar with going into the new or unexplored. Part of my make up embraces new and difficult situations. It is my deep discipline and  code that allows me to see it for what it is and move forward. Alternating between being dominant and submissive gives me this freedom. More on philosophy at a later date....
     It was mutually decided that waiting for the enervating summer to pass would be the best idea. Gathering up my wits and feeling around for the "needs" of the clients, I put my mind on the actual dinner.  It was important to me that the dishes be right.  Also bringing in the correct wines to compliment the food and encourage the taste-buds to ecstasy was critical. One without the other would spell disaster. Seen that, won't do it.
    Considering dishes for clients is tricky when you know there will be disparate tastes. Am I looking to please the hosts? The guests?  Will they all blindly accept the same dish?  Will someone have an issue?  Having a restaurant quality meal, when there is not an a la carte menu for the guests to choose from, is a bear to work with.  In the end it was about pleasing me, because if I don't like it, no one will. So armed with ideas, I went off to a few markets to see what they might have in season from which to build the menu. There were a lot of good choices, but I couldn't shop too early for fear of the freshness quality deteriorating. That wouldn't do at all.
    Talking with your "counter" people (since I no longer have access to big purveyors) is critical.  When will next shipment of this item come in? Will these be available on this date? That sort of thing....breaking down the menu into needs lists.  Purchasing goods for things that need preparing ahead of time to "set". Finding out if the wines need pre-ordering. Making lists of items or tools to have with. You can't ever assume that what you need is going to be available where you are going. You are off premise or in the field.....anything goes. An Alice in Wonderland picnic.......and you can't sit on your mushroom smoking a hookah......not if you want it right.  Judicious planning is mandatory.
     I chose to take a second pair of hands to ensure that everything ran smoothly.  It helps for packing up everything to travel, double checking the needs list.  You may be called upon at any time to explain the dish, the wine , who knows.........and you want to be there  for the people eating your food.  At the same time you want to monitor the food and make sure it doesn't go to shit. Nothing kills the mood like over cooked or under done food.  No matter the size of the group, a pair or two of hands that know what they are doing and understand your vision, are a big plus.  You spent money and your guests are spending money.  Very symbiotic. Plus, the they are going to be the word of mouth for the future. Better be damn sure it's all you can be.
     We arrived on time and armed. They got comfy and relaxed with a cocktail. I called dinner when I felt the moment was right.
    The first course went out and it was simply beautiful and tempting.  Two different pates, one mousse style and one country version, with two complimentary cheeses.  Four different textures, plus sweet and savory accompaniments, to wake the mouth up. The first bottle of sparkling rose had darling little bubbles to tickle and tease. It all went down very well.
    A simple salad of slightly bitter greens lightly dressed with an herb vinaigrette, grape tomatoes and champagne grapes,  plus a glass of  white to help offset any "heaviness" sometimes associated with pate, followed.        
   Then after a brief respite the entees came out.
  Amazing fresh wild caught Sea Bass wrapped in leeks, like little presents, on a bed of soft, herbed, goat cheese Polenta, barely sautéed spinach with a compound butter quenelle, glistening and melting as we went.  This was served with a stunning 2005 Pinot and truly they were in heaven.  Nothing was left.  All eyes were bright and shiny.
     Once I manged the espresso machine, I was confident enough to serve dessert. A simple, palate cleansing Key Lime tart, with a bittersweet chocolate wafer for a kick.
    The diners were left to finish and talk amongst themselves, while we cleaned up and ensured that all was as it should be from when we came in.
     It was a huge success and and the promise of other meals was set in the works.
As I said, it was the first, but it will not be the last.

Duet of Pates.......Duck & Pork, Country Style  and Foie Gras Mousse, w/ Applewood Smoked Bacon Cheddar, and Ossau-Irati cheeses, figs, olives, Truffle Honey, Brioche toast points

Arugula, Belgian Endive & Raddichio w/  3-herb goddess Vinaigrette........baguettes and butter

Sea Bass wrapped in Leeks on soft herbed Goat Cheese Polenta, Sautéed Spinach w/compound butter

Key Lime Tart with fresh berries and 80% Chocolate wafer and Good Coffee

It's all  good,