February: Day-of Prep

February 22, 2009

Granita in progress

Granita in progress

Hello again! I am going to split this in half, if you don’t mind, with the rest of the prep here and a separate dinner photos post. If that’s too much, well then don’t read them, geez.

Ouchies.

Ouchies.

So basically yesterday was sort of cursed. Everything came off in the end, but the day started off with me getting up early to get some work done and promptly slicing my thumb in the mandoline. That’s the kind of stupid thing I always figured I’d do eventually. I guess it feels good to be right about something? Unfortunately, we didn’t have any bandaids around, so I had to walk my bloody stump to Rite Aid to get some first aid and gloves. Sigh.

This glove went on to cause problems later in the day. Spoiler alert!

This glove went on to cause problems later in the day. Spoiler alert!

It was a very busy day, with lots of last minute things to do and buy. The fish store was out of black cod for the fish course, so I went with halibut, which actually ended up working better. Gave better texture to the dish.

Steamy mushrooms

Steamy mushrooms

I won’t bore you with the whole list of crap I did, but I was feeling pretty okay about timing.

Squash candy

Squash candy

Too bad stuff kept going wrong. The freezer spontaneously popped open at one point and ejected the container of granita, which, of course, broke and got sticky goo all over the floor. It was too late to make more, but I managed to salvage enough for us to use.

Also, my stupid slippy glove kept making me drop things.

Grits, grits, everywhere

Grits, grits, everywhere

I don’t know if you’ve ever spilled grits, but I’ll be finding these little a-holes stuck in random places for months. Again, luckily, there were just enough left in the container for me to use.

Parsnip chips

Parsnip chips

In any case, things got done. The most annoying part of the whole thing was that I couldn’t get the effing sous vide machine to work. The temp just kept shooting up all over the place no matter what I set the PID to. I was about to tear my hair out when people started arriving and I still hadn’t been able to put the eggs in. They take 60-75 minutes, but the temperature was just too high. My kitchen is the first thing off the front door and so folks were showing up and I was sorta freaking out and hadn’t finished setting things up and was behind on plating and trying to figure out how I was going to cook these eggs and blah. You know that feeling? Plus I just felt generally ripped off because I’d bought that whole machine for nothing. The eggs turned out okay, in the end, and the fish was a higher temp than ideal but still moist and firm, so nothing was ruined, but it sucks to be excited about a new toy that absolutely doesn’t work right when you need it to.

People are getting here at this point

People are getting here at this point

After I had a glass of bubbly and some chitchat with my pals, I relaxed and just turned the machine on and off to keep the water sort of in the right range, which worked fine-ish but still pissed me off. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed last night that it occurred to me: I’d plugged it in wrong. Yup, that was the kind of day that yesterday was.

January: Recap

February 15, 2009

So yeah, this blog didn’t exist when I had the first dinner, because I had no idea if it would work and the plan of doing a monthly thing hadn’t taken shape yet. Basically, I owed my friends Billy and Nico a thank you dinner for watching my cats and instead of doing something reasonable, I decided to cook a bunch of courses and invite six other people. But it worked! I’d only had two other dinner parties before, and both had an element of complete disaster to them, but this actually went smoothly.

Before I show you the dishes, let me just reiterate that I am a shit photographer. I just have a point and shoot digital and frankly zero artistic talent (plating is another weakness of mine.) If you were hoping for food porn, I apologize in advance. These are illustrative at best. Sorry to food cock block you. Anyway, onward.

The menu:

Butter-poached shrimp with salsa:

A straight rip from the French Laundry cookbook, pretty much, though I did a pseudo-vide butter poach in a ziplock on the shrimp and ditched the unseasonal tomatoes. Oh and the one shellfish-allergic friend got a vienna sausage mit saurkraut.

Shrimp and sausage a la Keller
Shrimp and sausage a la Keller


Hot spring egg with mushrooms, cauliflower, and truffle toast
:

Another pseudo-vide application. I have since gotten a PID controller from auber and a water bath–more on that later. I know hot spring eggs are kind of two years ago, but for a non-mammal-eater like myself they are pretty amazing. Still figuring out how best to unshell them. Chantarelles were sauteed in butter and thyme and reheated for service, cauliflower just roasted in the oven, toast was buttered with butter I mixed with truffle salt. Tasty. There will be many more hot spring egg dishes throughout the year.

Hot spring egg with winter garnishes and truffle toast
Hot spring egg with winter garnishes and truffle toast


Celery root soup with chili oil
:

Man, I love celery roots. They’re so weird tasting. I’ve always hated celery, but lately I’m really liking it, and I credit the roots. This soup was just diced celeriac simmered in veg stock until soft, put through the food mill, and enriched with cream and thyme. Usually I mix half-and-half  celeriac and potatoes, but I thought just the celery root would be a more pure flavor. I was wrong–it took way too much cream to get it to feel creamy enough. Potatoes really helped with the texture. Anyway, this was good but not great, and I think the chili oil was too spicy for some (though I love it.) I know people say spice is a palate killer, but I like it mid-meal. It feels like sorbet or something. I may be alone in this.

Celery root soup with chili oil
Celery root soup with chili oil


Orange salad with mint and almonds:

Taken from Penelope Casas’s Delicioso!, which I got for xmas. It was, in fact, delicioso. Winter’s kind of tough in terms of what produce is good. I like to alternate heavy stuff with citrus, because citrus is awesome. Whoever decided to make winter citrus season was clearly trying to keep me from getting SAD. The salad is easy, just orange sections, mint, red onions quick-pickled in orange juice, marcona almonds, and a citrus vinaigrette. The best part was that these could be mostly done ahead.

Orange salads. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of them out of the fridge.
Orange salads. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of them out of the fridge.


Fennel, artichoke, and olive agnolotti with brown butter and mushrooms:

I don’t think I’m alone in immediately thinking of the French Laundry cookbook when considering a complicated meal. This was supposed to be the artichoke ravioli from one of the fish dishes just made into agnolotti (which, side note, I know TK makes his agnolotti like tiny ravioli but I always thought they were more tortellini-like? Aren’t they named after pope hats? Not that it matters since as you will see my pasta looks more like wadded up tissues. Kleegnolotti?) but unfortunately there weren’t any good artichokes to be had. I know, they’re not a winter food and that’s why but they taste wintry to me. I subbed canned (I couldn’t even find frozen) knowing it wouldn’t work quite right and it didn’t. The artichoke hearts were braised with fennel and mirepoix and veg stock and olive oil and wine, but the canned chokes didn’t pick up any real flavor. I ended up pureeing them and the fennel with some of the braising stock and some olives, which tasted great. In the end, it was a good main course and nobody could tell it was the product of a fuckup. The mushrooms were chantarelles and hedgehogs just sauteed in butter and thyme

Fennel, olive, and artichoke agnolotti with mushrooms and brown butter.
Fennel, olive, and artichoke agnolotti with mushrooms and brown butter.

Lemon thyme granita:

I know it’s traditional to serve the sorbet after the penultimate savory course, but it has always made more sense to me as a transition to cheese and sweet. Sue me. This was just a simple syrup infused with lemon zest and thyme, strained, added to some lemon juice, frozen, then raked with a fork.

Lemon thyme granita.
Lemon thyme granita.


Cheese with Anna’s peach jalapeno jam:

Anna is my awesome sister. She lives in California and is launching a preserved foods business. Stay tuned for updates on that, as this jam was kickass. Cheeses were clochette, humbolt fog, garroxta, and Roaring ’40’s blue.

this picture is actually upside-down. The blue went last.
Cheese: this picture is actually upside-down. The blue went last.

Olive oil cake with candied olive and kumquat, blood orange sauce, and olive oil gelato:

Olive oil cake from an epicurious recipe, Mario Batali’s olive oil gelato, which could’ve been really good if I hadn’t majorly fluffed the attaching of the ice cream maker arm to my kitchenaid. I can never remember the right way to do that, so I ended up with the batter sitting in the frozen container for too long. Bad texture. It was fine though. Blood orange sauce was just reduced juice, candied olives were cooked in syrup then put in a low oven for 24 hours. The olive oil was a nice fruity Basque one I got from Fairway. This dessert was a success, by my reckoning. I was a little worried the elements wouldn’t come together, but it was very citrusy and floral. The ice cream had a little lemon salt on it, which gave everything a pleasant savoryness.

olive oil cake, blood orange sauce, candied olives, candied kumquat, olive oil gelato with lemon salt, olive oil
Dessert: olive oil cake, blood orange sauce, candied olives, candied kumquat, olive oil gelato with lemon salt, olive oil

Candied orange peel and salted caramels:

Mignardises. I worried nobody would have space, but they all got eaten. The caramels were left over from a holiday box I made and the peels were from all the citrus in the dinner. Next month I’m getting a little more ambitious with second dessert. I swear, fine dining was basically invented by the hobbits. Two desserts. Sheesh.

Billy, the guest of honor, and Zack enjoy candied orange peels. Well, I hope they enjoyed them.
Billy, the guest of honor, and Zack enjoy candied orange peels. Well, I hope they enjoyed them.

Whew! That post was almost as long as the dinner. So there was January. February planning is well underway, so expect some details on that shortly.