Yes, I am a failure

May 3, 2009

Yes, this weekend was supposed to be the “April” dinner. Unfortunately, I had to cancel it for a bunch of reasons, and busy schedules look to be making May impossible too. Sigh. I am enjoying these dinners, but trying to do them around the amount of crap going on will make them unenjoyable.

This project will resume, but it might be a while. Fingers crossed, Frank and I might be moving to a new apartment (that we own!) in a little while, so things are busy and money tight. Boring, I know. Sorry. Hopefully posting will continue soon…frowny face.

April: April is May

April 19, 2009

Evidence: Lunch, April 23, 2008

Evidence: Lunch, April 23, 2008

Because of scheduling conflicts, April’s dinner will actually take place May 2. Looking back at years past, we had asparagus by then, but this spring’s been chilly and there’s no sign of it yet. The menu so far is heavy on the spring produce, and I’m going to be a bit screwed if I can’t get my paws on any.

Normally I only start to get stuff a few weeks into the season because while I love food, I love sleep more, so I’m not one of those 8 am greenmarket people. I’m willing to do that to make this dinner work, though. Only two weeks for the sparegus to sprout. It’ll be a nailbiter. Developing…

March: Dinner Photos

March 29, 2009

These flowers were the only spring-y thing in the dinner: wait till next month

These flowers were the only spring-y thing in the dinner: wait till next month

So, the dinner! We had some of Frank’s co-workers who hadn’t come before and I was a little worried they wouldn’t be into it, but I think everyone had fun. I’m going to say I think this was my favorite so far, but then again I couldn’t eat the main course so who knows.

First course was a miso mustard cauliflower puree with a fried quail egg and pickled red cabbage:

These were good. I’m really into the miso/mustard/creamy combination. It doesn’t taste “miso-y” necessarily, just sorta salty/savory and tasty. I give these an A+.

Fennel and pickled red onion salad with olive puree, candied and fresh orange slices, fennel fronds and seeds:

And with this, we see the inadvertent theme of the evening introduced: ugly food. The flavors on this were good, I thought, but I didn’t consider how dog food-like the olive puree would look. Lots of the food this month was similarly unphotogenic (not that my photo skills are helping anything. Sorry again about that.) Not sure why that happened. Anyway, the olive and orange worked great together and one fennel-hating guest ate his whole portion, so I am going to call it a win.

Next up, cumin lemon carrot soup with a pimenton-infused carrot cube:

My original idea was to have the soup very light and frothy, kind of almost foamy. It didn’t end up that way at all–more creamy and sweet/spicy. Also, the people at the Ideas in Food blog are always using their sous vide machine to “infuse” flavor into vegetables, so I thought I’d try it, but I’m not entirely¬† convinced.

I mean clearly this is my fault for doing it wrong, but still. The cubes were good, and had a texture that was sort of firm and soft at the same time, but I’m not sure the pimenton flavor came through. I’d try the sv vegetables again, though. Maybe next month with aspargus? In any case, this was tasty, but not a home run. Nice small middle course.

And now we come to the citrus-cured wild salmon with avocado and garlic chives:

Like I mentioned before, this was supposed to be with pomegranate seeds instead of avocado, but alas, no poms to be found. I also accidentally made nine of these instead of ten, so I only sampled a chunk of salmon, not the whole dish. Frank said it was good, and the salmon bite I had was very silky and tasty–I love my fish guy. So, not a particularly inventive dish, basically deli sushi, but good.

Broccoli “marrow bone” with roasted broccoli salad:

Since this was the meat dinner, I thought it would be funny to have a vegetable play on meat. The idea was to fill the broccoli stems with a melty cheese/broccoli mixture and have people scoop it out and put it on toast like marrow. A roasted broccoli salad with raisin vinaigrette played the part of the parsley salad.

The broccoli stems were much smaller than I’d imagined when I thought this up, so not very much goo fit in them, plus I was going to blowtorch them but Nico forgot the blowtorch at home. I ended up broiling them. I’m not sure where on the stupid/funny continuum this dish lies, and the closer I got to serving it, the more I was sure it was way to the stupid side. The only thing that saved it, I think, was that it actually tasted really good. I think with some fixing, this could work really well, though I realize that any food that involves quotation marks gets some people’s hackles up. Which, fair enough.

Now on to the main course, 48-hour short ribs with Rancho Gordo flageolet beans, onion confit, and crispy kale:

Another of the ugly dishes. Since I didn’t taste this, I can only say that people seemed to like it. I couldn’t even taste the beans, as I put bacon in them, so I had to rely on Frank for seasoning. I hope they were okay. I have to say, it was nice to sit out a course and have extra time to do kitchen stuff. If it wouldn’t be too weird, I think I would only cook and not eat, but that just seems inhospitable.

The short rib came out much more falling-off-the-bone than the tester, perhaps due to a minor screw up of short duration where the temp of the sv machine rose kind of high. The confit was from a jar my mom gave me for xmas. I was going to make a red wine pan sauce with the bag juices, but there was so much fat and I didn’t have time to de-fat things. Not as much fat rendered in the tester, again I think because of the accidental hour or so of high temperature. Lastly, kale chips got a little more burned than I meant for them to, but c’est la vie.

Spicy margarita granita:

This was a surprising hit–usually the granitas are not really remarkable. I had the simple syrup that I used to candy the oranges for the salad and the jalapeno for the dessert, so it was spicy and orange-flavored. I added lime and tequila and froze it. It didn’t freeze as hard because of the tequila, but was good and spicy.

Cheese:

Cana de cabra, an American farmstead gouda, a very stinky vacheron, and a Point Reyes blue.

Dessert, poor ugly old thing.

It’s a chipotle chocolate cake smooshed around ginger pastry cream (see the last post for a full breakdown of what went wrong here), topped with a ginger white chocolate glaze, a sweet tomatillo sauce, a slice of candied jalapeno, and candied ginger (not homemade.)

They are undeniably fugly, but the flavors were really, really good. I liked it a lot. My only thought (besides the aesthetics) are that they were a bit big–everything was very rich, and I didn’t even eat the short rib. I had some ginger liqueur with it, and others sampled some absinthe.

Mignardises were more green tea truffles and earl grey tea cookies. I didn’t get a photo but they were the same as last month.

And that’s it! March, boom, done. I’m happy. This month felt the easiest so far to pull off, and there weren’t any major clunkers. Portion sizes were way more appropriate than last month. I’m hoping next month will be a little easier on the eyes, but we shall see.

All clean and time for bed.

All clean and time for bed.

March: Prep

March 29, 2009

Ruggles helps with the tester rib

Ruggles helps with the tester rib

Sorry I haven’t been around, internet. I was on vacation, but this month’s dinner happened nonetheless. I’m feeling sort of proud of myself, because despite two major mishaps, I neither got all frustrated nor threw anything out. Maybe I’m getting better at this stuff?

The menu changed quite a bit since the last post. It’s difficult, like I said before, because March is just crap in terms of stuff in season. No spring foods, but the winter foods are gone (case in point: originally, I wanted the salmon dish to be with pomegranate seeds, and I went to every store I could think of and no pomegranates. Guess they just ended. Nertz!)

So yes, the first big issue was the lack of poms. My idea was to have them in with the salmon to kind of look like roe and pop like roe, but be sweet. I thought it would go well with the ceviche-style salmon cubes, but now I will never know.

stripey!

stripey!

I ended up just doing avocado chunks, which is much less interesting and kind of cliche, but I’d already invested in this lovely hunk of fish and I only had three hours till dinner so I had to think fast.

The other major issue was this:

I don’t know what I was thinking with this plan. I had made these chipotle chocolate cakes before so I knew how dense and pudding-y they were. The idea was to do a dessert about spiciness, so I wanted ginger and chili to come together in a sweet way. I was going to make ginger pastry cream and bake the cakes with holes in the bottoms, so I could hide the pastry cream under the cake and it would be a little surprise.

prep: broccoli marrow bones

prep: broccoli marrow bones

Any smart person would’ve baked and unmolded the cakes, then cut a hole, but instead I had some weird idea to bake them with little cups in them, take the cups out, unmold, and have these perfect cakes-with-holes. Of course I got a messy wad of sticky cake.

I ended up mashing the cake into plastic wrap, putting down a blob of pastry cream, them using the plastic to make a little orb. Kinda ugly, but not terrible.

Frank does his duty

Frank does his duty

The only other real challenge was that I was doing this short rib dish I couldn’t taste (since I don’t eat land animals.) Frank was kind enough to help out in that department, and I think everything was okay.

The sous vide machine worked awesome, and all in all this was the least stressful, yet in some ways best, of the dinners so far. Am I jinxing myself to say I might be figuring some of this stuff out? No doubt. Stay tuned for dinner pictures…

So after some reflection and bouncing off of ideas, I think for now the menu looks sorta like this, which is similar to what I posted yesterday, for obvious reasons (and theses are not in order yet):

Raw fennel salad with candied blood orange and olive puree

Brussels sprouts custard (bite-sized) with roasted Brussels sprouts leaves

Citrus cured salmon dice (tartare? ceviche? cevitare?) with pomegranate seeds and fennel fronds

Cauliflower miso mustard puree, pickled red cabbage with mustard seeds, fried (or sv?) quail egg

Pimenton-infused carrot cube with carrot-lemon-cumin broth and a candied carrot curl

Broccoli “marrow bone” filled with cheesy broccoli puree, roasted broccoli salad with raisin vinaigrette, shaved raw broccoli

Rancho Gordo flageolet beans with bacon, red onion confit, sv short rib, and kale chips (no I will not be eating this course. Frank is tasting the tester for me.)

Dessert will be some combination of chocolate, chilli/pepper, and ginger

So now testing shall commence. I definitely need to try out the whole meat dish. I am sort of torn about it, because I’m doing all that work and I don’t even get to find out if it tastes good, but I’m curious about trying more meat cookery. I hope Frank has good suggestions. I will probably try the cauliflower egg dish in its entirety because I have leftover puree, the Brussels sprouts definitely, the carrot cube definitely, and the rest I’m not sure.

It’s weird because if I were charging money for this, or if I were in any way a professional, I’d test all of the dishes a bunch of times, but I’m not and I’m not and I don’t really have the resources to test and fix everything. Sometimes I regret only having one time to make everything and never improve on each individual dish. Ah well. Hopefully guests’ll like it anyway.

March: Menu Planning

March 2, 2009

planning planning

planning planning

Like I said before, there is nothing exciting in season in March. The winter stuff is gone, and we’ve got at least a month until ramps and asparagus show up. My thoughts with this one is doing a sort of last gasp of winter. Here are some flavor combinations I’m thinking about:

cauliflower miso mustard puree with pickled red cabbage and quail egg

pimenton-infused carrot cube with frothy lemon carrot broth and candied carrot

broccoli “marrow bone” with roasted broccoli salad and raisin dressing, shaved raw broccoli

small dice salmon cured in citrus with pomagranite seeds

Brussels sprouts custard with roasted Brussels sprouts leaves

fennel salad with candied citrus and olives

something with Rancho Gordo flageolet beans, onion confit, toasted kale chips–maybe a meat course?

escargot?

I’ll keep you posted…

March: Bonus Feature

March 2, 2009

Yeah, thats pink wine. What?

Yeah, that's pink wine. What?

So it’s not a monthly dinner thing but it was my partner, Frank, and my sixth annivesary this weekend. We were going to go to wd~50 but it didn’t work out, so instead we cooked. The menu was just sort of simple stuff that we really like–didn’t feel like working too hard or trying anything new, just the classics.

Steak for Francis

Steak for Francis

Originally, we’d planned three savory courses, cheese and dessert (plus one interstial, um, unspeakable course. Can’t do that at wd~50!)

shuckin oysters

shuckin' oysters

Unfortunately, we got super full after the main, so we ate the cheese and dessert with leftovers the next day. Overall, I thought it was pretty tasty.

things to be eaten

things to be eaten

Coincidentally, it was “Open That Bottle” night, started by my favorite wine reviewers from the Wall Street Journal. We were planning on opening it anyway, but hey, great, synergy. This Pinot Noir was a birthday gift from my sister a few years ago (she lives in Carneros):

delish: soft and round with lots of vanilla

delish: soft and round with lots of vanilla

Before that we had some pink bubbles:

yum: I love bubbles

yum: I love bubbles

We started with oysters:

malpeques, blue points, kumamoto, and something else I forgot

malpeques, blue points, kumamoto, and something else I forgot

Then a scallop:

scallop with chantarelles, cauliflower puree, chive oil

scallop with chantarelles, cauliflower puree, chive oil

Then a bifurcated main course. For Frank:

steak (cooked to 57 degrees), mashed potatoes, worschester sauce

steak (cooked to 57 degrees), mashed potatoes, worschester sauce

The steak didn’t sear up as hard as Frank wanted which means one thing: time to buy a blowtorch! Whoo!

For me, a pasta made from my very favorite Italian dry pasta:

saffron cream sauce, spinach, crab

saffron cream sauce, spinach, crab

This is where we gave up and went to bed, very full. Dinner got started late and we were tired. The cheese was really good though, the next day for dinner. A fromager d’affinois and a really good monte enebro. Plus dessert:

dense chocolate cake, Cointreau creme anglaise, blood orange sauce

dense chocolate cake, Cointreau creme anglaise, blood orange sauce

And that’s that. Happy anniversary, me. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

More steak shots for the meat inclined: dont get too used to it.

More steak shots for the meat inclined: don't get too used to it.

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