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…

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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.

This fixed the truffles

This fixed the truffles

I have been a busy bee. As you can see, I added more chocolate to the truffles and now they hold. I took some to work for our pie day today, and people were into them so I think they’re ok.

Also, I made some sunchoke soup and some parsnip puree. These came off without incident.

And some roasted garlic puree, which is basically the easiest puree of all time:

The parsnips and garlic are for the fish, the soup for the sunchoke duo. I started the kabocha candy for the dessert, though I can’t seem to get the caramelized yogurt to work. I’m not sure if I will just skip it or try and find a substitute.

Squash candy

Squash candy

I also made some brown butter solids based on a smart idea by a commenter on Laurent Gras’s blog. You add nonfat powdered milk into the butter, so you get lots of solids. This is also for the dessert.

To fuel the Friday prep, I enjoyed some margaritas, yum. That there is the head of the penguin shaker I got from Frank for xmas.

pengyritas

pengyritas

Okay, back to business. I braised the celery for the pasta dish:

Braise me!

Braise me!

I roasted and cut up the beets for the amuse

roundy beets

roundy beets

Which of course made a giant mess.

This was way darker than it looks here.

This was way darker than it looks here.

So that’s that. I know I’m mega-jinxing myself, but I feel like I’m better prepared than I was last month at this time. I’m not entirely sure what’s up with dessert, and I definitely still have to buy a lot of stuff tomorrow, including all the fish. Plus the wine. Plus we have to clean and set up. Yikes. Anyway, wish me luck. It is time for me to eat Mexican takeout, watch Adult Swim, and sleep.

Done list, in case I forget where stuff is.

Done list, in case I forget where stuff is.

I started working on things for Saturday’s dinner this weekend, after a good friend who was in town for a few days took off. A nice way to spend a holiday weekend, really. I’ll post the menu in a bit, though there will probably be changes even after that, because something always goes wrong. But so I knocked out some dessert components :

Frank splits a squash

Frank splits a squash

Kabocha glaze

Kabocha glaze

Brown butter

Brown butter

The resulting brown butter cake

The resulting brown butter cake

And some pasta:

Celery root through the food mill

Celery root through the food mill

Ravioli for the celery dish

Ravioli for the celery dish

Yeah, some of those ravioli turned out kind of messed up, but there are a few extra so hopefully nobody will be upset. I’m still not sure about the Thomas Keller pasta recipe with all the eggs. Kneading for 25 minutes sucks and I’m not really sure if it’s worth it. I just need a new roller, maybe. Also, that one really janky one is just the tester, I swear.

Then on Sunday I got to the mignardises. I made mango pate de fruit, which thanks to the fact that both my scale and my thermometer konked out, I expected to be terrible. The internet seemed to think they were touchy and difficult, and I managed to burn the whole bottom of the gel while cooking it so that I had to force it through a tamis to get out the burned bits.

Pates de fruits brulee?

Pates de fruits brulee?

Even so, they turned out okay for a first try. Little sweet maybe, but I ate one today and it was cool.

All sugared up

All sugared up

Annoyingly, the thing that I pretty squarely didn’t do right turned out okay, but  the truffles, which I’ve successfully made a bunch of times, were a mess. They’re green tea white chocolate truffles. I’ve made green tea brown chocolate truffles and they were completely easy, but these were super soft. I already added more chocolate once but I guess because white chocolate is all cocoa butter it’s softer so it takes more? We shall see. Frank and I ate some and they tasted good but were mega sticky.

Turns out this was way too much liquid

Turns out this was way too much liquid

This did not turn into truffles

This did not turn into truffles

Then lastly, I made this earl grey cookie dough that I froze to cook off later:

Cookie dough

Cookie dough

More later in the week, friends. Let’s hope it all comes together.

February: My first sous vide

February 15, 2009

Boxes boxes

Boxes boxes

So after I made some fake sous vide stuff last month, I decided to pony up for a real setup.

Fakey setup

Fakey setup

The nerds on egullet call it a rig and frankly, I kind of think that is hilarious. I looked around for a real immersion circulator, but I was wary of lab castoffs because of the possibility of carcinogens or weird crap in it, and new ones were way too expensive, so I got a PID controller from Auber Instruments and a steam table and an aquarium bubbler and a vacuum sealer. Wanna see the goods? I hope so:

Waterbath and PID

Vacuum Sealer:

Test steak for Frank:

And the first test dish. This is a not-quite-there-yet version of February’s main course: