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…

February: Recap

February 22, 2009

The game plan

The game plan

So without further ado, here are the dinner photos. Allow me to re-remind you that I am a terrible photographer, and being rushed with dim light helps nobody. You might have to use your imagination a bit.

Red and yellow beets, goat feta, dill, and balsamic vinegar:

amuse beets

amuse beets

These were good. Maybe could’ve use a tad more salt.

Scallop, miso mustard sauce, cress, broiled grapefruit, long pepper:

I wish I’d gotten more color on the scallops. I did the grapefruit in the broiler and that smoked everything up because we have no venting to speak of, so I didn’t get the pan as hot as I should have. Also couldn’t find peppercress. Still: solid dish.

Sunchokes two ways: cold salad and hot soup:

People liked this. Some of the guests hadn’t had sunchokes before, which was kinda cool. I would like the rest of my thumb back, though.

Cheese grits, butter-poached shrimp, mushrooms, hot spring egg, hot sauce:

This was a real crowd pleaser. There were several grit-loving Floridians in the crowd and bowls were licked clean. Unfortunately, I think it was too heavy to fit with the rest of the meal–I definitely felt full after this course. I tried to keep everything small, but even so, too many courses I think.

Celeriac raviolo, braised celery, parsley, fennel, celery salt:

This was okay. I had intended it to be sort of refreshing with the celery–I was debating between this and a lemony pasta. Maybe celery’s just not that exciting or maybe I was getting too full. This was a meh.

Halibut with saffron broth, parsnip puree, spinach, garlic puree, chive oil, grapefruit zest, and parsnip chips:

There is a restaurant in Alaska called the Halibut Hole. True story.

There is a restaurant in Alaska called the Halibut Hole. True story.

This was a partial steal from Thomas Keller–he has a whitefish, parsnip puree, spinach, saffron sauce dish. I added a few things and took a few others away. His is no doubt superior, but I liked it nonetheless. Like I said, the halibut was a last minute but fortunate addition. My problems with the water bath meant that I ended up with hotter fish than I’d planned, but that was probably good since it took a minute to get them all to the table. Successful dish, though a bit fussy. The parsnip chips were really good with it, I thought.

Campari lime rosemary granita:

The survivors

The survivors

Very good. Glad some could be saved after the accident.

Cheese:

Crottin de chavignol, Idiazabal, French raclette, gorgonzola dolce

Definitely not necessary this time, as people were stuffed. I like to have cheese. If I did this menu again, I’d trim from the savory courses.

Brown butter hazelnut cake with yogurt jam and kabocha squash glaze, frozen creme fraiche, candied squash, and brown butter solids:

This was yum. The cake is from the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook. All around good.

Green tea truffles, mango pate de fruits, earl grey tea cookies:

Mignardiiiiiiiises!

Mignardiiiiiiiises!

Mostly these didn’t get touched, as people were full, but friends had sampled them all earlier and liked them. There’s enough left over for snacking this week, which, score.

My full friends

My full friends

In general, I would say this menu was successful, despite a near-constant level of disaster in the prep. Like I said, there was way too much food. Last month people still seemed hungry at the end, or at least not full, so I added a course. That was a mistake. This menu had a lot more protein and the heavy grits dish, and it was too much. I have a pretty enormous appetite and I was uncomfortably full.

This is where I keep the cat when I am not using him.

This is where I keep the cat when I am not using him.

For next time, I think that I’ll cut a savory course. Or the other thing I’m kind of interested in is alternating “full sized” (though still small, in comparison to a normal meal) courses with tiny ones, like the size of the first beet course.  That might be a lot more work–I’ll have to think about it.

Sleepy Dan

Sleepy Dan

I’m also not sure if having a fish course is worth the extra money good fish costs. It was tasty, but not a show-stopper. Shellfish are so much cheaper and maybe more exciting in the end.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

I know all of you omnivores are rolling your eyes. I guess I should just try out some different things. Oh and plug in the sous vide machine correctly.

All clean and ready for bed.

All clean and ready for bed.

Anyway, that’s February in the can. I am fully tuckered, but happy. Two down, ten to go. Now, who’s excited about March?

Nico is! Or had better be! Or else!

Nico is! Or had better be! Or else!

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.