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.

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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.

February: Whew, made it

February 22, 2009

Doneski

Doneski

I am full as all get-out. And tired. But the dishes are done and we’re finishing up some wine before bed. Also watching the last Conan on Tivo. Sweet Conan. I’m glad he’ll be on earlier. Anyway, pictures tomorrow. Also my thoughts about improving things. If you care. Which, psych, like you have a choice. Goodnight!