Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yes, my shining moment!

My favorite quote to date:

"You have no idea what you're doing, do you?"

A good question posed to me by my chef-de-cuisine last week when he caught me trying to "wing it" by putting together a sauce I had never made before. It was so beautiful in its truthfulness. Not just for that particular moment, but in general, for how it is for me every day. No, I don't know diddlysquat and I'm trying to figure it out, figure it out, figure it out. And sometimes I wonder if and how I ever will.

The funny thing is, when you're having a relatively good day, you forget just how little you know and a tiny little seed of hubris sneaks in. That's why, despite all the humility a kitchen dishes out in a single day, you always need that extra hard kick in the stomach once in a while to remind yourself how little you actually know and how much more there is to learn.

When approaching food, you need to do so with humility and respect. You're in the hands of what nature's doled out to you, and subject to the perfectly imperfect inconsistencies of how they interact with air, water and fire. And then there's the unstoppable element of time. So for each and every one of the cooks at BH, there's a challenge awaiting them every day - how to do things better, faster, even differently. Without humility, there would be no room for improvement or innovation.

So I welcome that swift kick to where it hurts. Bring it. After all, what fun would cooking be if we figured it all out after just a few tries?

Monday, November 24, 2008


You know you've been spending too much time in the kitchen when you find yourself calling out, "Corner!" on street corners and resisting the urge to yell out, "Behind you!" in crowded grocery stores.

Cooks are such freaks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Time is relative

After a month at the amuse station, a big change has come over me. I see time differently, and feel anything is possible in just a few hours if you really PUSH and focus. I get it now. It's a mind thing, and I'm tickled and in awe by it. Now, 24 hours in a day seems like so much time and in the end I can say life is so much fuller by it.

Well, I'm off to Germany today to be married, and when I return in early November, I hope to have some exposure to another station and a chance to work with the exceptionally talented pastry chef, Alex Grunert.

Auf wiedersehen!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


At 4:00 a.m. Left-over pizza. With O.J. (Why not have a little breakfast along the way?) Why does left-over pizza often taste better than the fresh ones? Maybe cause they're eaten when one is mad hungry.

The phrase of the day is: "Mental mise-en-place." The chef who's most like my mentor called it that when I explained the mind-set change I learned from him. Mental mise-en-place. Gotta love it.

One slice left, then good night.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Covered in meat juice due to a malfunctioning trash bag.
Hand jam.
Foot jam.

Some things:
• There's always a faster way of doing everything. I learned this today while weaving my potatoes. Aha! I had a breakthrough moment and it made me stupid happy.
• When you love the food, it loves you back.
• I'm actually starting to get what it means to "push."
• Must remember to think before I move. Sometimes my body wants to move somewhere before my brain tells it where to go.
• Must remember to stop talking to myself, outloud.
• Must remember to smile at least three times a day, even on crappy ones.
• Today we found out there'll be a new farm chore: The Cardboard Chipper. They'll begin recycling cardboard boxes in chippers, like the wood chipper in Fargo. Cool!
• Harold McGee is coming to spend some time with the kitchen staff. Super-cool!
• The chef de cuisine is back. Über-cool!
• Never gloat or become complacent cause that's when the shit hits the fan.
• My English is getting worse and my Spanish is improving.
• "Yes" to everything.
• International accents in the kitchen can lead to some seriously hilarious miscommunication.
• Got a taste of some beets with honey and apricot foam. YUM.
• The word that I hear floating around most during the day is "celtuse."
• On fence today: Cheddar and purpole cauliflower. Pretty.
• Love: Rainy days at the property.
• Love: 2:30 a.m. showers and ice baths for los manos pobres.
• Made it through prep and service almost alone.

There was more. What was it???
So sleepy...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the crapolas

In the shits.
Back pain.
Achy hands.

So why do I look forward to doing this another day???

I look at my daily prep list and it looks like mission impossible, but my garde manger supervisor insists I can do it all by myself if I really push it. I really believe I'm pushing it all the time, but the rate at which chefs move is on a whole different caliber. I just don't get it. Maybe tomorrow I will. Yes, tomorrow I will! I learned something new today - that while I tend to focus on only the task at hand and doing it well, the other chefs are planning their next move and going through the motions of that move in their heads. It's a weird balanace because last week I tried to multi-task and got scoled for not focusing. So I guess you must focus physicallly on the task at hand, but multi-task in your mind. Much more stressful. We'll see how it goes. Tomorrow's another day...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The rise and fall of pizza dough

This was partly M.'s inspiration and partly my failure to find ready-made pizza dough at Whole Foods, as M. suggested. I was in the mood for a pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions, but the pizzerias in New Rochelle are quite disgusting to say the least. M. made a really beautiful pizza for her parents at her daughter's 4th with WF pizza dough and I thought I'd give it a try, too. But I had no luck in finding it. So I made the dough myself, which turned out to be o.k., but not great. Now I'm racking my brain trying to remember what my all-time favorite pizza crust was like, and what was so great about it.

As you can see in the pictures, the dough was definitely not rolled flat enough, and I ended up with a very puffy crust. Not my thing at all. And of course I had a brain fart while shopping - I was so focused on the secondary toppings and finding the dough that I forgot to buy tomato sauce and mozzarella. So it turned out to be a cross between a foccaccia and a pizza. But the toppings were quite tasty, and I'll be using the same combinations quite a bit in my future crust experiments.

On one side is Gruyère, caramelized onions, mushrooms, garlic and thyme. The other, Gruyère, caramelized onions, caramelized fennel, pancetta and thyme. Out of the oven, I topped the fennel side with a few arugula and frisée leaves. I only wish I had olives for some good ol' brininess. Yum yum.

As a side note: It's really nice to be writing and home-cooking again!

Cool beans

Some neat-looking beans we had to shell recently. They were so cute I had to bring them home.

Left: Can't remember the name
Center: Jacob's Cattle, an heirloom variety that originated in Germany
Right: Yin Yang, or Black Calypso, is a rare heirloom variety that pairs well with corn

Monday, September 22, 2008

A few of my favorite things

• Being greeted in the morning by chickens, cows, sheep and pigs
• Witnessing 2 pigs shamelessly making out in plain sight, in front of all the little kids
• Sending off newlyweds with a clanging of pots and pans
• Making a fresh batch of ricotta and butter every day
• Kneading and seasoning butter
• How ricotta becomes sweeter as you add the salt
• The characters I get to work with side-by-side, 14 hours a day
• The sweet-smelling air, especially in the crisp of autumn
• Thursday farm chores and the lectures from special guests in the afternoon
• Mondays and Tuesdays being "weekends"
• Speaking Spanish
• Speaking German
• That the chef de cuisine and dishwashers alike like to greet one another with a handshake
• Picking sage for the potato chips directly from the herb garden
• That arugula here tastes like arugula should
• Edible flowers
• Getting through a night of service smoothly with enough goodies for V.I.P.'s.
• Stone Barns honey, in honeycomb, served warm
• "Field gras"
• The composting bins
• The bins for the pigs
• The recycling bins
• Never having to throw away much, not even the frying oil which gets converted into bio-fuel
• Thick financier batter with plenty of ribbons
• Good olive oil that will give us a thick financier batter with plenty of ribbons
• Sharpies
• Serrated paring knives
• Mini-spatulas
• Large supply of bamboo skewers
• Large supply of quart containers
• Large supply of quart container lids
• Small sized chef's jackets with the right size pantalones
• Midnight chefs' meetings
• Stainless steal
• The sound of plates clanging side-by-side during buy-outs
• Face bacon
• Fried pig snout
• Blue Hill baloney
• Kale chips
• Arugula salt
• Maldon sea salt
• Orange thyme
• Pretty fences
• Squeegees
• Spoons, especially the little ones
• Heaps of kitchen towels
• Controlled chaos
• Uncontrived plating
• The chef de cuisine who never freaks out
• The sous chef who's cool as a cucumber
• That Chef sometimes gives me a wink
• Feeling like family
• Working with my hands
• Constantly moving

Am I really here?

My left fingertips are burnt, calloused and numb. I have a bad burn on my right forearm and wrist. I have a strange wound that won't heal in the space between my forefinger and thumb - a little accident that happened in my wrestle with a giant Hobart mixer. Both my hands are swollen and muscular like a man's, and they tingle with tightness every morning. My back aches, my feet hurt, and I'm really really tired.

On September 3rd, I began my four-month apprenticeship at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. My day starts somewhere between 10:30 a.m. and noon and ends past midnight, around 1:00 or sometimes 2:00. When they say to come in at noon, it's really not a blessing because you have less time to do the same amount of work. I really can't believe the amount of food the kitchen is able to produce in so little time every day. With set-up for service at 3:00, family meal at 4:00 and service starting at 5:00, you only have about 4 full hours to get it all done. How do you it? You push. And push. And push. I thought I was pushing, but it's become clear that I have no idea what that really means.

In the first week, I worked with the meat guy. Ironic considering how little meat I eat at home. I spent most of my time putting various forms of meat into sous vide bags with various forms of marinade. The main takeaway from that week was that meat is heavy, especially turkey breasts. They are about the size of my thighs.

In the second week, the chef de cuisine put me on the amuse station. Talk about being thrown into the fire. I came out alive, but it felt a lot like the feeling of being thrown into the deep end when you don't even know how to doggie paddle. It was crazy. But it's also an honor to be given so many responsibilities. Every day I learn a little more - how to organize myself better, how to shave a few seconds off of this or that, how to season better, batter better, slice meat better... I'm learning on the job, hands-on, through experience. Raj at Saul used to say theory is useless if you can't execute it. Many cooks know a lot of stuff in theory but can't cook. I hope I'll learn to cook better. Someday. Day-by-day.

So how has it been? My brother asked me yesterday if I was having fun. I can't say I am, only because I've made a lot of sacrifices to be here, and life in the kitchen is hard as hell. It was never meant to be for my entertainment. There have been times, especially in the last week, when I would wonder about this new life I've chosen, if it needs to be so hard. I would ask myself, "Annie, wouldn't it be so much easier to go back to advertising? What are you doing here taking out linens and trash at midnight for zero pay?" But the thought of going back to the office life makes me cringe and my stomach churns just to think about it. It makes me sad sometimes to think how much I hated it because it would be so much easier if I didn't. If I could be just a little o.k. with it, I would go back. I really would. But I know I can't. I just can't.

What I can tell you is that I'm much happier. Or maybe it's more contentment and feeling at peace. In the morning, I drive past a beautiful lake, up to the pastures of Stone Barns filled with pigs, chickens, cows and sheep, and have a little chat with Gerry, the security guard. I get out of the car breathing sweet air, put on a crisp, clean uniform and start a new day with new challenges. I greet the staff, an amazing staff full of some real characters, then I set up my station, which has a window out to the courtyard (which I never seem to remember to take a moment to look out onto...).

At the end of the day, after thirteen hours standing on my feet and using my hands, I come home knowing that I did honest work and knowing where the fruits of my labor went. I'm also mighty proud of the stuff that kitchen puts out. Maybe not my finicky, disastrous financier burgers, but my ricotta and butter aren't half bad. And of course I'm in awe of the exquisitely beautiful plates that the chefs produce, especially the salads from the garde manger station.

Sometimes I wonder how I got here because every morning I feel like I awoke to a dream. Then I remember I just asked. Just ask. You never know if someone will say yes and where it will take you.

The photos above are from my third Thursday at Blue Hill. Thursdays are farm chore days, when we go out into the fields for an hour or two and have a chance to come that much closer to the ingredients we work with. It's great to get our hands dirty.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rustic walnut pesto

Coming back from my trip to a completely empty fridge, I'm now reacquainting myself with my kitchen and the kinds of food I used to eat pre-California, pre-fast food, pre-lavender-infused everything. One of the last meals I had before the trip was with a beautifully rustic pesto made with walnuts. It started with a bunch of basil I couldn't refuse. It called out to me with such an intoxicating fragrance at the farmer's market that it made me swoon. I used walnuts in place of pine nuts because they're more heart-healthy, and I was also in the mood for a little bitterness.

As for technique, I'm a bit of a techno-phobe in the kitchen. Aside from my KitchenAid mixer, I'm convinced all things taste better the closer they are made to the hands. In the pesto realm, I've read several cooks' opinions that using a mortar and pestle is far superior to the food processor because mashing the basil allows the flavors to fully release whereas processing it just turns the pesto into slop. You're also left with a more vibrant green color. For me, hand-mashing just feels like the right thing to do.

This time around, I wanted to try a method I read about in 101 Cookbooks. I oftentimes find great satisfaction in the long method of doing things, and this process looked so messy and appealing to me. You simply chop the ingredients together one-by-one with a knife or a mezzaluna. And because you're left with nut pieces that are chopped rather than smashed, this method yields a very rustic version of a pesto. I just loved the way it came out with the basil still a bright green, in varying shapes and sizes with irregular bits of nuts and garlic in between.

To serve, I had the pesto on pearl barley instead of pasta because a chef friend of mine eats pearl barley practically on a daily basis and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Cooked right, it has a great toothiness and a nuttiness that goes really well with pesto. I also tossed in some steamed asparagus and some lemon zest for a bright flavor.

Recipe: Rustic walnut pesto
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
1 large bunch of basil, unbruised leaves only, washed and dried
3 medium cloves of garlic
1 small handful of walnuts
3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and freshly grated
A few tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste

Start chopping the garlic along with about 1/3 of the basil leaves. Once this is loosely chopped add more basil, chop some more, add the rest of the basil, chop some more. Scrape and chop, gather and chop. At this point the basil and garlic should be a very fine mince. Add about half the walnuts, chop. Add the rest of the walnuts, chop. Add half of the Parmesan, chop. Add the rest of the Parmesan, and chop. In the end you want a chop so fine that you can press all the ingredients into a basil "cake" (see photo). Transfer the pesto "cake" to a small bowl not much bigger than the cake. Cover with a few tablespoons of olive oil.

You can set this aside or place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Just before serving, give the pesto a quick stir to incorporate some of the oil into the basil. Once tossed with the medium, season well with salt. And if needed, thin the pesto with a splash of pasta water.
Makes about 1 cup.

California recap

Hello everyone. I hope you're having a nice summer so far. I had a blissful, beautiful and relaxing time at the festival. Most of my time was spent at the Lavender Green Cafe making sandwiches and salads and gaining some front-of-the-house experience. I'm not exactly a social creature, but I really got a kick out of making customers happy, especially when they seemed to get excited about the smallest thing. Kitchen-inhabiting chefs don't often get to see the smiles on their customers' faces, but at the end of the day that's what this industry is all about isn't it? Pleasing the peeps.

As for eats, I sustained myself on lavender-infused chicken wraps, BLTs, burgers, salads with lavender-honey-mustard vinaigrette, and crumb pastries with lavender custard, lavender ice cream, and iced lavender green tea and lemonade. Not too shabby a diet for a vacationing volunteer, but I was pretty lavendered out by the end of the first weekend.

Outside the festival, I encountered mostly culinary bombs, including the worst meal of my life at a faux-Brazillian steak house and the most Chinese sushi I've ever had. Life is too short to have such bad meals, and towards the end I had enough of them and decided to consult my trusty Chowhound.

My tummy my senses were appeased with a beautiful dinner at Lucques, Susanne Goin's restaurant in L.A. the plates were simple, elegantly rustic and colorful. And as my friend pointed out, quite feminine. In San Diego, I inhaled about five utterly addictive fish tacos at Blue Water Grill and washed them down with a surprisingly decent non-alcoholic Becks (California = driving, driving and more driving). And on my last day before my flight, a trip to The Hungry Cat in L.A. Though not exactly a value meal, it was made memorable with a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad with feta and the grapefruit-rootbeer soda. And finally, one must never forget the comfort of In-N-Out burgers.

I wish I had taken more time to take careful pictures of everything and I'm actually appalled at myself for my lax attention to photographing food, especially at the festival. But in all honesty I think my mind was elsewhere for once. I hope you'll at least enjoy what's here, a random collection of shots from my trip in a very different place from here called California.

Friday, June 6, 2008

What lettuce tastes like

When I lived with my parents in Queens several years back, I got to experience the beauty of living off the land. Being Korean and never fully comprehending what a big patch of grass did for anybody, my parents converted the entire back yard into an edible garden. It wasn't a big yard, maybe 10 x 20 feet total, but they managed to plant a plum tree, a pear tree, and an apple tree amongst the pumpkin patch, lettuces, cucumbers, and perilla. I regret not having appreciated this patch of paradise more at the time because I currently long for a garden of my own.

My mom, having grown up on a farm, knew the ins and outs of composting like the back of her hand, so everything was grown organically. It's one thing to be fed by your mom, but another to be fed with ingredients she raised with love and care from a little seed. When preparing meals, she would often ask me to go pick a bowl of lettuce or cucumbers from the garden, and I can't quite explain the sensation that hand-plucking these tender greens produced in me. On the one hand, it was a feeling of subtle caution because they're living things that require care and respect. But mostly I felt a deep satisfaction, knowing where my food came from and what I was feeding my body with - good stuff that would go into my cells and produce more of who I am.

Jamie Oliver's paradise (he's so charming)

One day I hope to have such space of my own - plot of land, however small it may be, where I can simply step out to grab a handful of pungent greens - a simple salad, a daily meal. To me, there's really nothing better than this, a bowl of hand-picked greens with a small drizzle of good vinaigrette. Each bite is an explosion of flavor, and I get completely lost in it's surprising goodness - an entirely different experience from the salads we know of these days. Even the best organic packaged greens will begin losing their flavors the moment they're picked. By the time we wash them and put them on our plates, they'll have been triple-washed, packaged, and shipped across the country and been sitting for days on the grocery shelves before hitting your salad bowl.

The closest alternative to having a garden in Brooklyn is to hit the farmer's market. Although taking a subway to pick my greens is a far cry from the garden experience, I still feel lucky to have even this. I grab a giant bag of mixed salad greens, which oftentimes include beautiful edible flowers. When the salad craving kicks in during the week, I just toss in some Parmesan cheese, some quick-toasted nuts (hazelnut, walnuts, almonds, etc) and maybe some sliced fruit on top of a heaping mound of greens, and I'm a happy camper for a days and days.

Some tips for a perfect salad:
  • Get yourself the freshest greens as possible. If you have a garden, I envy you...
  • Rinse and dry your greens in a salad spinner as soon as you get home, wrap them in a paper towel and store them in a container. This way, you'll have easy access to a great salad any time during the week with minimal fuss.
  • Keep a stash of various dry ingredients always on hand to throw into the salad at whim: nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, sliced almonds, pistachios), dried fruits and/or cheeses in the refrigerator, and some homemade croutons in the freezer.
  • As with any salad, a good dressing is essential. I like to make a large batch at the same time that I wash my greens. Below is a recipe that I posted in a previous post, and it's quickly become my recent favorite - it's very clean and refreshing, perfect for a simple summer salad.
Three-citrus vinaigrette
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, rough-cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
Fresh-ground pepper

Emulsify all ingredients in a blender and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Makes about 2 cups.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Spaghetti with ramps

Last week I brought myself down to the Union Square Greenmarket with the hopes of picking up some final harvest of ramps. If you've never tasted them, I suggest you put it down on your list of must-eats. Ramps are wild leeks, with a soft, almost velvety green body and a scallion-like stem that's slightly more bulbous. They taste like punched-up leeks, made pungent with notes of garlic and onions. And they're delicious. Really delicious. I had ramps for the first time a few years back at Franny's in Brooklyn, sitting at the bar eating small bites with a great glass of red (the best way to eat there, in my opinion). It was a revelation in flavor, and I never forgot it. It was prepared with great reverence, simply sauteed in olive oil with salt, pepper and a perhaps a little lemon. Reverence because with such great-tasting produce, it would be a crime to cook it to death, or cover it up with anything more than just the essentials - oil, seasoning and some acid.

, the painfully short season for ramps (3-5 weeks) fills me with longing. They appear as one of the first fresh new faces of spring, then quickly disappear as if they arrived just to announce that spring has finally sprung. I was tempted to buy up every single one that I saw at the farmer's market, just fill up on as many ramps as possible for the rest of the year. But instead I would come home with just a few bunches and savor them on their own, with eggs, or my favorite, spaghetti with ramps.

It's prepared in the simplest way, quickly sautéed and simply seasoned, with no other sauce than the oil, salt, pepper, some pasta water and a squirt of lemon. It's one of those dishes that's so simple yet so delicious that you keep looking at your plate, wondering where in the world all the flavors are coming from. Unfortunately you'll have to wait till next spring to try this recipe (no, really can't think of a good substitute for ramps), but isn't there something beautiful about waiting, anticipating what nature will provide, and eating with your head bowed to the seasons?

Some notes:
  • To clean the ramps, just fill a large bowl or pan with cold water, let ramps sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, lift them out gently, then repeat a few more times with a new change of water until water runs clean. Be sure to dry well on paper towels or with a salad spinner prior to cooking.
  • The bulb is incredibly yummy when caramelized, so make sure to give them time to do so. Tand the greens tend to puff up and wiggle around not unlike a worm once it hits the pan so don't be disturbed to see this.
  • I've tried this dish a couple of different times, once with and once without pancetta. It was good either way. If you choose to use it, sautée a slice of rough-chopped pancetta in the pan before adding the minced stems and bulbs.
  • I also liked it with a few thin pieces of shaved Parmesan. I wouldn't recommend grating the Parmesan because it'll muddle up the dish with cheesiness rather than rampiness.
  • Make sure to reserve some of the cooked pasta water to add to the pan.
  • Here, a video of Mario Batali making this dish with Martha Stewart. He's just so fun: Mario on Martha making spaghetti with ramps
Recipe: Spaghetti with ramps
Adapted from Mario Batali's recipe
1 pound dry spaghetti or linguini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh ramps
1-2 tablespoons red chili flakes
kosher salt
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Fresh lemon wedges (optional)
Shaved slices of Parmesan (optional)

1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the spaghetti to the pot and cook according to the package direction, until tender but still al dente.
2. Heat olive oil in a 12-14 inch sauté pan over medium high heat. Separate ramps by the white root ends and the leafy green top. Add root ends to the pan and sauté until tender. Add salt and chilli flakes. At the very end, add the greens and sauté until wilted.
3. Drain pasta and add it to the sauté pan, reserving some of the pasta water. Toss gently to coat the pasta with the sauce.
4. Divide pasta evenly among four warmed plates. Drizzle olive oil over top and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and, if desired, a squeeze of lemon and some Parmesan.
Makes 4 Servings

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June Lavender Festival in Beaumont, CA

Starting this weekend! I'll be slaving away in the kitchen somewhere on the last two weekends, working with beautiful organic lavender buds. This is an incredibly beautiful property, with hiking trails, fig trees, a wondrous olive grove, and what they call, "The Thousand Year Oak" tree. If any of you are out in California during the month of June, please be sure to stop by. Highland Springs Resort is in Beaumont, near Palm Springs, about 2 hours east of L.A.The festival takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the entire month. The entrance fee is only $5.

Crêpes a la Jannette

Ahhhhh... food memories. This is one of the last things I ate before the big stomach trauma, and I think in just about 24 hours, my tummy will be strong enough to revisit this happy moment in my gastronomical life.

As often is the case, the simplest things make the best meals. Here is a basic crêpe rolled in a schmear of glistening butter and strawberry-rhubarb jam, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. The thing that makes it special is the jam, homemade by my friend Jannette. Thanks, Jannette. This made my mouth very very happy. If you don't know Jannette and worry that you can't find mouth happiness, too, never fear. A good jar of jam from a local farmer's market should suffice.

Recipe: Crêpes a la Jannette
Adapted from Jacques Pépin's Chez Jacques
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoon neutral-tasting oil (grapeseed, canola, peanut)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
A little less than 1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

For the filling:
4 pats of butter
Good-quality jam
Crème fraîche

1. Blend ingredients in a food processor for 8-10 seconds, until smooth.
2. Melt a generous tablespoon of unsalted butter in an 8-inch non-stick pan (I used a cast-iron pan and it worked out just fine, though a bit heavy) over high heat.
3. When butter sizzles, add about 1/4 cup of batter to the pan and swirl around as quickly as possible to coat the pan entirely with batter.
4. Cook for about 1 minute until brown and lacy around the edges.
5. Flip the crêpe over with your fingers or a spatula. Cook for another minute. When it's browned with a crunchy buttery edge, transfer to a plate into stack.
6. Spread each crêpe with a pat of butter, some jam, roll up or fold, top with crème fraîche, and enjoy!

Yields about 4 crêpes.

Note: Crêpes apparently freeze really well. I say apparently because I've never had the will-power to not gobble up every single one of them. Apparently you can make a large batch, layer a sheet of wax paper or parchment between each one, freeze, and simply defrost when you need one.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

I'd like to share a video and some pictures I took at Stone Barns Center for Agriculture, a Rockefeller-funded organic farm near Tarrytown, NY. And for a hint of some changes to come: I also spent two days trailing (kitchen-style interviewing) in the kitchen of Blue Hill, the restaurant run by Dan Barber, the ultimate East coast farm-to-table chef.

I hate food

For three days straight it's made me ill to think about any kind of food except a dry piece of toast (hold the butter) with some penne pasta, dry, no sauce, maybe with just a dab of tomato sauce on the side. I visited the farmer's market today to see if I could rev up my appetite by the sight of some fresh Spring produce, but all I felt towards the beautiful bunches of local asparagus was neutral, removed and passionless. An odd sensation.

The stomach virus is a powerful thing to turn a food-lover like me into a hater. And aside from the inherent sadness that comes from the lack of appetite, a deep-rooted fear has been creeping up on me - the fear that this will somehow become a permanent state, that I've lost the love and feeling for food altogether. I've spent many hours lying in bed trying to think up worse things that could happen to a striving cook... of course the first thing that came to mind was Grant Achatz, the innovative molecular gastronomist of Chicago's famed Alinea, and the ironic tragedy of his tongue cancer. First his appetite was gone, then his sense of taste altogether.

Even for non-cooks, the loss of appetite represents something of a loss of zest for life. Eating is one the most immediate and primal pleasures in life. And the pleasure of being in the kitchen for me, unmatched as of yet. I ask myself if I would return to the kitchen even if I landed on a permanent state of nausea. Yes, I think I would. I couldn't enjoy the pleasure of the food itself, but there's another major factor in cooking - the desire to share and please others. But would the food be just as good? Probably not. I could cook with my intellect, using good ingredients and good technique, but ultimately food can be only as good as the love and passion that goes into it. So please, oh God, make me healthy again so I can get back to the kitchen with full love and passion...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Horseradish crème fraîche with salt-crusted beets

This is an amazing combination of flavors. So simple and elegant. The salt crust looked fun to make so I tried it, but I won't be attempting it again as it's too time-consuming for what you get as a result - pure saltiness with none of the orange and thyme flavors coming through. The horseradish crème fraîche is a keeper though, and I'm rather addicted to its flavor. Last night, I made a new batch of simple roasted beets in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, peeled them, and gobbled them up with the leftover crème fraîche on top of warm red quinoa. So delicious!

Note on crème fraîche: If you can't find crème fraîche, it's easy to make at home by adding 2 tablespooons of buttermilk to a cup of heavy cream. Let it sit at room temperature until thickened, up to 24 hours. You can expand or extend the life of the crème fraîche by reserving 2 tablespoons of it, and adding it to another cup of heavy cream and letting it sit again in room temperature up to 24 hours. I'm growing crème fraîche in my apartment this way now, and it not only does it allows me to choose my organic dairy ingredients, but it somehow makes me feel like I'm utilizing what's given to us freely by nature - oxygen and bacteria - to add something great to my pantry. If I can't grow a garden, I might as well grow crème fraîche, right?

Note on the horseradish: At RestoX, I've been taught to cover it in rice vinegar as soon as it's grated to keep it from changing color, which happens quickly. You just need a touch of the vinegar, enough to turn the horseradish a bit doughy, like the wasabi you get at sushi restaurants.

Recipe: Horseradish crème fraîche with salt-crusted beets
Adapted from Epicurious, courtesy of Dan Barber


Horseradish Crème Fraîche:
1 cup crème fraîche (8 ounces)
1 tablespoon grated horseradish (more to taste, if desired)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons Sherry wine vinegar

2 cups coarse kosher salt
5 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
3 large unpeeled beets (each about 8 ounces), trimmed, scrubbed


For horseradish crème fraîche: Whisk crème fraîche, horseradish, chopped chives, and Sherry wine vinegar in small bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

For beets:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix coarse salt, horseradish, thyme, and orange peel in medium bowl. Place three 3-tablespoon mounds of salt mixture on small rimmed baking sheet, spacing apart. Top each salt mound with 1 beet, then cover all beets with remaining salt mixture, pressing very firmly with hands and forming crust around each beet, covering completely.

Roast beets 1 3/4 hours. Remove from oven; crack salt crusts open and remove beets. Peel beets; cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange beet slices on platter. Serve with horseradish crème fraîche.

Lavender-infused virgin mojitos

This is a recipe I tried out for the upcoming Lavender Festival. It's so refreshing, and the lavender adds a subtle bit of loveliness and interest to an otherwise common summer drink.

Recipe: Lavender-infused virgin mojitos
Adapted from Food and Wine
15 mint leaves
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Lavender Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
4 ounces chilled ginger ale

1. In a cocktail shaker or a tall glass, muddle the mint, sugar, lime juice and Simple Syrup. Add ice and shake well. Top with the ginger ale and/or seltzer, depending on your preference for taste and sweetness.


1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons organic lavender buds

In a small saucepan, bring sugar, water and lavender to a boil. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool completely, and strain out lavender buds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Feeding the masses

Apologies for my long hiatus from the blog world. It's been a crazy few months here, as early spring probably is for most people. Birthdays, visitors from abroad, feeding an a**load of mouths (more on that later), exploring new avenues, etc, etc. I've also been feeling a massive computer burn-out. Having sat in front of a computer for 8 hours straight at the office, it's hard to turn one on again when I get home.

Well, I got an email from Carmen today asking, "Are you still at RestoX?" Yes, I'm still there, and it's been better than ever. I've been taking notes in "analog mode," as G. calls it, on my nifty little Moleskine reporter notebook, and I'm planning some future posts.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few recipes with you. We feed about 70 church members every few months, with various groups taking turns each week. Our group was up a few weeks ago, and I was the organizer this time. It felt a bit like a Top Chef challenge, with a budget of $200, using only organic ingredients, and catering to older Korean palates. Ugh. Not fun. Older Koreans tend not to be very adventurous, and if you serve anything besides a garlic and hot pepper-laden dish, they'll complain. We also have to provide big vats of kimchi on the side, even if it's with spaghetti.

I decided on a risky chicken tikka masala - risky because a lot of people have told me Koreans don't like Indian spices. I personally love Indian food because I partly grew up on it at M's house. So strangely enough, it's my comfort food. Chicken tikka isn't real Indian but rather Anglo-Indian, created in England, and I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like it. I did some poking around on the web for a good recipe, and came upon one from Cook's Illustrated. It's so simple, filling, delicious and cheap to make. Best of all for us, zero complaints.

Some notes and tweaks to the recipe: The chicken marinated this way makes it flavorful and tender. If you want it extra-tender, you can give it a long, sensual massage like one of our cooks did. It was a big gross to watch, but the chicken was damn good. I also decided to half the amount of chicken called for here because Koreans are more interested in the sauce than the meat, and I found it to be more than enough chicken. To add some bulk, I roasted some cauliflower with garlic and tossed that in along with some frozen peas for color.

We also served a salad with a nice three-citrus vinaigrette that was so good that several people asked for the recipe. A chef friend gave it to me, and I adjusted the ingredients a bit to fit the Indian theme better. For example, the original recipe calls for some garlic and soy sauce. I omitted these and added in some chopped cilantro and honey since Koreans tend to like anything sweet. I'm telling you - it's SO good.

Oh, and if any of you need these recipes calculated for 100 people, just let me know. ;-)

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
This dish is best when prepared with whole-milk yogurt, but low-fat yogurt can be substituted. For a spicier dish, do not remove the ribs and seeds from the chile. If you prefer, substitute 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper for the garam masala. The sauce can be made ahead, refrigerated for up to 4 days in an airtight container, and gently reheated before adding the hot chicken.
Serves 6 to 8

Chicken Marinade
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts , trimmed of fat and cut into 3/4" cubes
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (see note above)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Masala Sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion , diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh serrano chile , ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (see note above)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala (see note above)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Cover chicken well with yogurt mixture and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil chicken until tender and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes.

4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then stir into warm sauce (do not cook chicken in sauce). Adjust seasoning with salt, add in cilantro if desired, and serve with basmati rice.

Three-citrus vinaigrette
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, rough-cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
Fresh-ground pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Emulsify all ingredients in a blender and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Makes about 2 cups.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yo tambien!

Anyone want to eat through Spain with me? I mean, I'd much rather do it with Batali and Bittman, but if we could get ourselves there and in front of some good food, I won't make a squeak. Here's a little trailer for a new show coming in the fall - a road trip through Spain with two of my favorite cooks/chefs, Bario Batali and Mark Bittman, eating and discovering their way through Spain, my next food destination:

Friday, April 18, 2008


Passion for food and cooking. My friend MF has it. A long, long time ago, we worked together at my very first advertising agency. It was a scary, scary place and those of us who've worked there all share a special bond over the experience. As MF describes it, it's as if we're survivors of an abusive family. Haha! I can only laugh about it now. I think it was she who once calculated the number of hours we were working and concluded we were getting paid less than minimum wage. (Note to self: Getting paid $8-10 an hour in the kitchen isn't such a bad deal after all). Sometimes I wonder if 7 years at that place damaged me beyond repair and has put me in a permanent state of "advertising burnout."

Anyways, MF was always bound for great things, and I'm amazed at her courage to live out her love and passions. First, she left the "abusive family." A big step. Then she became a freelancer. Then she moved to paradise. Yep. She relocated to Hawaii. And now she's put out a cookbook of her very own, called Just Sweets. It's a momentous occasion because she was always making tasty things to share with her fellow orphans at the old agency, and I had always hoped she would take her cooking to the public, maybe open up her own little place. I remember after tasting her red velvet cake for the first time. I was hooked. And her boozy eggnog (yum). And her mac-and-cheese (pure comfort). I was so excited to see that she shared her red velvet cake recipe in this book. Other appealing recipes I'm looking forward to trying are her Haitian-style Bread Pudding, and Beata's "Superduper" Sweet Cake.

Available at in downloadable PDF format for only $5.00.


How timely for this NY Times article to appear the Wednesday following my Saturday with my new sous chef Raj. I found it worth a few chuckles, and it gives us some chefs' insights on the high level of profanity in the kitchen:

Tom Colicchio
“Mr. Colicchio blames a loosening of standards in the whole of American culture: ‘You read Rolling Stone and you don’t see rock stars curse like this… And it’s recent, too. It’s something you’ve seen just in the past year.’”

Ruth Reichl
“‘For as long as I’ve been around restaurant kitchens they have been testosterone-fueled places where guys almost revel in their profanity.’”

Anthony Bourdain
“Mr. Bourdain thinks that public profanity could be the ultimate sign that chefs have arrived: ‘I’m making a living at it…I do a lot of speaking engagements and sometimes I feel like I’m being paid to curse in front of people who haven’t heard it in a while…I’ve been pushing it and pushing it and have unloaded like a marine in front of a vast roomful of blue-haired ladies, and they seem to get it.’”

Marco Pierre White
“‘I have sworn, yes, in the early days, going back 20 years,’ said Marco Pierre White, the English chef once renowned for his scorched-earth rages. But then he tidied up his vocabulary. ‘It was just growing up.’”

David Chang
“‘When you talk to older guys, they’ll all say they were big yellers but they’ve toned it down now,’ said David Chang. He said that he would like to do the same, in part because he was worried that his tantrums were damaging his heart. ‘It’s not like I want to do it, I just want to get my point across and unfortunately I’m not that eloquent or articulate…I could find a better way — and I’m trying — to communicate, I will change in a heartbeat.’”

So the downfall of American culture, high testosterone levels, the Hollywoodization of chefdom, youthfulness, and the lack of good communication skills are all factors leading to foul language in the kitchen. Ok. I buy that.

But I have my own theories, too:
1. All the extremely bleepin’ painful wounds you incur but can’t whine about express themselves in the form of explicatives.
2. There’s no bleepin’ “Save as” or “Ctrl Z” button in cooking. Yes, you can try to fix some things in the prep or cooking process, but some things, when bleeped up, are just bleepin’ bleeped. It’s going in the bleepin’ trash along with the 2 hours you spent on it.
3. You’re so focused on the task at hand you don’t have the time to think about expressing your bleepin’ thoughts eloquently. You just say the first words that land on your tongue, and that would be “Bleep!” mainly because that deep cut you have on your fingernail is bleepin’ killing you and you can’t say bleep about it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Silent workers

{ The staff at Le Bernardin }

I just wanted to share a blog post I came across by Michael Laiskonis. Laiskoniks is the executive pastry chef at Le Bernardin, and his blog provides an informative look into the thoughts and musings of a 4-star restaurant chef.

When I saw this post, I was really happy and relieved to see someone of this caliber actually recognize and celebrate the silent workers behind the scenes. I felt relieved on behalf of Lupe, Segundo, Ben, Chiquito, Adam and of course the new sous chef Raj. These are the people that make the restaurant industry tick – they’re the backbone of any four-star restaurant in the city. And you can be assured that these are the people who do what they do for the pure love of cooking/baking, not for celebrity or pretense.

For me, these are the guys that make enrich my experience at RestoX. I admire their consistency, their humble mindset, their kindness and generosity, and of course their seemingly-natural cooking intuitions. If you ask any of them if they’d rather be doing something else, they’ll tell you no way. They love cooking and that’s it. There’s something to this – to working with people who do what they love in such a simple and uncomplicated way.

I want this, too. I’m determined to simplify my life. To be contented with little and to feel good about what I do, even if it’s just creating a single dish that will bring a smile to someone’s face. Just leave me with my cookbooks and some good ingredients to prepare and share with others, and I shall be the happiest girl around.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The moistest banana cake

Saturday was M.'s son's birthday numero uno and I had the honor of baking his very first birthday cake. T. has never had cake so to play it safe, M. asked me to do something with flavors he’s familiar with. He likes banana, so I made banana cake.

While digging around for recipes, I came upon a post by Dave Lebovitz begging the question, “Banana cake or banana bread – what’s the difference?” I was determined to find a recipe that would make a distinctive, light, fluffy cake rather than a heavy, loaf-like bread. I found a good recipe for sure, and the “cake” came out incredibly moist and scrumptious, but I’ve come to the conclusion that anytime you mix bananas with eggs, butter and flour, you’ll get something that tastes just like… banana bread.

The frosting here so simple, easy to make, and super-yummy. I got a thumbs from M. and her entire family except T., who doesn’t like cream cheese and unfortunately got stuck with a funky banana not-so-much-a-glaze. Poor little guy.

Recipe: The moistest banana cake
Adapted from Recipe Zaar
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
2 1/8 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, depending on how sweet you like your frosting

1. Preheat oven to 275°.
2. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
3. In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
5. In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy.
6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla.
7. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
8. Stir in banana mixture.
9. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
10. Remove from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes.
11. This will make the cake very moist.
12. For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
13. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla.
14. Add icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth.
15. Spread on cooled cake.
16. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired.

Notes on the recipe:
• This cake bakes at a very low temperature compared to most cake recipes. Depending on your oven, the baking times may vary. Just be sure to check it for doneness (till toothpick comes out clean) at the 50 minute mark, then every 10 minutes thereafter if needed.

• You’ll notice that one of the steps is to throw the cake right into the freezer as it finishes baking. This makes the cake extra-moist. I don’t know enough about food science to explain exactly why this works, but it makes sense to me. The water molecules probably become suspended as ice particles rather than evaporating, and then releases as liquid back into the cake. Whatever. I will get back to you after rummaging through my Harold McGee for some real answers.

• The recipe makes enough for a 9”x13” square pan. I wanted a round cake, so I filled a 9” diameter pan in half and baked three additional mini cakes in little ramekins – one for me, on one for T., and the other for M.’s daugher.

• When making the frosting, don’t add all the sugar in at once. After creaming the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla, start with one cup and see if it’s sweet enough, then add more to your liking. I was satisfied with just 1 cup.

• If you’d like, sprinkle frosted cake with some chopped walnuts.

Tres leches cake

Actually, I baked 2 cakes for T.'s birthday because I was convinced this was a child-friendly recipe. Made with 3 different milks that you leave to soak into the cake overnight, this dessert is definitely a crowd-pleaser. Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of the final product, and until you’ve got the whipped cream and toasted coconut on top, it’s not the most photogenic thing.


Recipe: Tres leches cake
Adapted from Chowhound
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup evaporated milk (not nonfat)
1/2 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk (shake well)
1 tablespoon dark rum, such as Myers’s (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Butter a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Separate eggs, and place yolks in a large mixing bowl. Reserve whites in a separate mixing bowl.
2. Add sugar to yolks, and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until pale yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Clean beaters, and whip egg whites to medium peaks (not too stiff), about 1 1/2 minutes.
3. Using a rubber spatula, stir about 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in remaining whites.
4. Whisk flour with a dry whisk to aerate and break up any lumps, then sprinkle it over egg mixture. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold flour into egg mixture, just until there are no more white flour streaks. Don’t overmix.
5. Pour batter into the buttered baking dish, and bake until cake is puffed and golden and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 to 25 minutes.
6. Remove cake from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. With a toothpick, poke holes all over the cake. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
7. In a medium bowl, whisk together three milks and rum (or vanilla extract), and pour mixture evenly over cake. Continue cooling cake, about 45 minutes more, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
8. For toasted coconut, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add coconut and spread it in an even layer. Cook, stirring often, until coconut is fragrant, lightly toasted and browned. If coconut begins to burn, reduce heat. Remove from the pan immediately.
9. To serve the cake, whip heavy cream and powdered sugar to medium peaks. (If you like, flavor it with a teaspoon of dark rum or vanilla extract.) Top each cake slice with a mound of whipped cream, and garnish with toasted coconut, if desired.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hmm... that makes sense

So I finally met Adam's replacement. His name is Raj. He's our new sous chef. And he’s a character.

The first think that comes to mind when I think to describe him is that he peppers every sentence with the “f” word, even when his sentences are seasoned enough without it. Last night the wait staff asked what was in the bass and he said, “Some salt, some f’in pepper, and some other good f’in stuff.” I have a feeling this is the way of dialog for most chefs in professional kitchens - it’s just so ingrained in their everyday language. But the poor guy has yet to realize that this is not the way of RestoX, and I think everyone finds his way of speaking a bit jarring. I mean, RestoX’s kitchen is made up of some classy guys – some real gentlemen.

I miss Adam dearly as does Ben (one of the line cooks), who expressed this sentiment to me last night with almost teary eyes. But Raj turned out to be a pretty cool guy and my first Saturday with him was actually a refreshing change. Adam didn't want to be at RestoX. Raj does. And that makes all the difference for someone in my position. Raj clearly has deep respect for the process at RestoX, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He also seems eager to teach me anything he knows so no amount of questioning is too much. It was just a blast on Saturday. Weeeeee! Learning can be so much fun!

My Saturday list:
Cauliflower soup
Asparagus soup
Slice morrell mushrooms
Julienne carrots
Mince shallots
Julienne radishes

Cauliflower soup
In the first minute I walked into the kitchen on, Raj told me to make the cauliflower soup. And it freaked me out. I’ve never made anything from scratch at RestoX except the mashed potatoes (aka cream and butter with potato as binding agent). This was no time to be proud, so I told him I don’t know diddlydoo and he would have to walk me through it detail-by-detail. And he did.

Sauté sliced shallots with butter and white wine till wine reduces down. Pour in a quart of cream and allow it to come to a soft boil. Add small cauliflower florets to cream and cook until soft (you’re basically blanching them in the cream). Raj kept repeating that you can’t overcook the cauliflowers here since it’s for soup. In fact, the longer you cook them, the better they’ll be. When done, lift the florets out of cream and puree in blender.

Here I learned a new technique called “beurre monté” by dropping really cold chunks of butter into the puree while the blender was still running (if you were to add warm or hot butter to this mix here, the whole mixture would break into a nasty mess). Now why add the butter so late in the process using this technique? Why not just cook the cauliflower in more butter at the beginning? The beurre monté imparts the soup with a shiny, velvety finish. The way Thomas Keller explains it, “Solid butter is an emulsification of butter fat, water, and milk solids; beurre monté is a way to manipulate the emulsification into liquid form.” By poaching meats in beurre monté, you infuse them with the pure flavor of butter. I particularly like the way TK describes cooking lobster with beurre monté here.

Once pureed, pass it through a chinois and season with a little salt and acid (in this case, rice vinegar because that was what we had around). Raj likes to add acid to anything creamy to add complexity and a bit of flavor contrast. But don’t finish it at this stage. Raj’s practice is to leave soups slightly unfinished, slightly under-seasoned so that he could play around with it a bit more right before it’s served. Soup has a tendency to change over time, so you want to allow for this process to take place before you mess with it too much. In my mind: let the flavors find their chemistry, get to know one another, and marry. It makes so much sense.

Asparagus soup
Next up was the asparagus soup. Blanch 1” pieces of asparagus in the same cream mix. Follow the same process as cauliflower soup. Notice we cooked the white cauliflowers first before the green asparagus to avoid coloring the cauliflowers green. It’s these little common sense things we don’t always think about until we’ve created huge batch of green cauliflower soup. Haha.

Side note on mashed potatoes
While making the soups, Raj asked me how I’ve been making the mashed potatoes. It seemed like a trick question because it was such an easy one. I said I boiled them in a big pot of salted water and… He stopped me right there and said he does it differently. He puts the potatoes in a small sauce pan, just covered with water, and simmers them over medium-low heat for a really long time until they’re cooked through. He salts them only at the very end. This keeps them from getting all fluffy in the pot, which opens them up to absorbing all the water. In fact, steaming would be an excellent method of cooking them. You want the potatoes to absorb as little water as possible. Less water = more potato flavor. Makes so much sense!

Morrell mushrooms
Slicing 3 quarts of morrell mushrooms in half was probably the easiest task yet. They’re currently in season, but I had yet to see them. They’re wrinkly, funny looking things that feel like rubber bands. I could see how all the little crevices would soak up butter, cream and white wine quite nicely.

I think this is my favorite knife technique of the moment. I love to julienne anything into the thinnest strips possible. It helps to have the mandoline handy to slice the carrots into super-thin pieces, line them up like fallen dominos and let the knife run quickly down the row the way Adam taught me. Yahoo! I dare say it’s rather exhilarating.

I didn’t realize this, but ChefX taught me the “hard core” way of mincing shallots. When Raj saw me cutting through these, he was in awe at my fearlessness. That’s because ignorance is bliss. And bliss is bliss until you chop off half your middle fingernail and begin to gush blood all over the shallots. This one hurt like a bastard. Another new thing I learned from Raj is that without proper care and sanitation, this kind of cut could turn into a serious infection that could turn into a serious amputation. If a bloody cut won’t make you stop mincing shallots, the word “amputation” will. He made me stop, wash my cut with hot water and soap (f-!@#**) and hold it above my heart. Then he wrapped it with gauze, masking tape (standard restaurant first-aid tape), and a rubber glove. I was impressed at his deftness and he’s now earned the title of “Dr. Raj” in my mind. I felt like such a fool injuring myself left so badly, but Raj and Lupe basically turned it into a show-and-tell of their recent scars to make me feel better. They’re such cool guys at RestoX. I’m mightily fond of all of them.

This is a new salad they’re doing for scallops - radishes, daikon and apples all julienned super-thin. I was so excited to have to julienne more stuff. Take off leaves, slice off tips, thin-slice on mandoline, and stack slices like poker chips. Cut off the initial edge and throw away. Cut through stack, creating itty-bitty matchsticks. They look super-cute and delicate once cut - a translucent white with the tiniest touch of red on either end. While I was working on these, Raj got the fish delivery. He was pissed that they forgot the f’in halibut and he went into a long monolog about how these f’in fish guys have messed up every f’in week, how ChefX will probably think he’s f’in incompetent, and now he f’in has to go to look around the f’in neighborhood to find some f’in halibut. It was pure comedy. By the time he got back, I had julienned about 6 bunches of radishes. He called me “crazy” and “hard core,” about the fifth time that day. After some thought, I decided to take this as a compliment.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rosemary-lavender shortbreads

O.k. this is just a warning that you'll be seeing a lot of recipes with lavender in the coming months. I'll be volunteering in the kitchen of a lavender festival this coming June at a place called Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, California. It's a beautiful property laden with an olive grove, fig trees, hiking trails, an old oak tree that's merely hundreds of years old, and fields of lavender. The festival will take place every weekend of the entire month of June, and of course all the food there will be lavender-inspired. I can't even begin to tell you just how excited I am about this event.

Since they're still looking for some additional menu ideas, I'm testing out some tried and true recipes with the addition of lavender. This shortbread turned out quite divine last time, and since rosemary and lavender give off a similar scent, the thought was to replace just a bit of rosemary with the lavender and it worked. The flavor was mostly rosemary, with a hint of lavender and no sign of soapiness whatsoever.

You'll see here I rolled out the dough and shaped them into individual cookies to make them a bit prettier this time. This called for a drastic shift in baking time. The ones I took out after 11-13 minutes came out a lovely pale gold with deep gold edges, but any I baked beyond that were a bit too dark to be passed as proper shortbreads. So watch them closely, o.k? It may also help to attempt these before midnight when your mind is at its full capacity so you'll remember to set the timer at the appropriate time and perhaps even remember to put a tray of cookies in the oven at all. It's a dangerous life I live in this kitchen of mine.

Recipe: Rosemary-lavender shortbreads
Adapted from Epicurious
3/4 sticks (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon dried organic lavender

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter and honey with sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, chopped or dried rosemary and lavender. Beat flour mixture into butter mixture until just combined.

On a lightly floured surface knead dough about 8 times, or until it just comes together. Roll out flat with a rolling pin to 1/8" thickness. Cut dough with cookie cutters. Press just a few buds of lavender on top, if desired. Carefully lift cut circles of dough with a pastry scraper and place on cookie sheet 1/2" apart. (they don't spread much).

Bake shortbread in middle of oven for 11-13 minutes, or until pale golden (be sure to watch closely). Transfer onto cooling racks and enjoy with a cup of earl gray tea.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mom's trunk persimmons

My mom has always been a feeder. Yes, many children of feeding moms think their moms are extreme cases, but ask anyone who's passed through our home while growing up and they'll tell you that my mom's a particularly extreme case. It used to grate on me so much when she would make our whole family late because she was cutting mangos and melons for the half-hour ride to church. And until these recent years when I've had to plan my meals ahead and cook for myself, I didn't correctly understand why my mom always asked us what we wanted to eat for lunch while we were still working on our breakfasts. I just thought she was just a food-obsessive, or what we would now call, a "foodie."

Well, now that she has two beautiful grandsons to feed, I'm no longer the object of her feeding mania, at least not in her kitchen. In fact, the tables have turned and now I'm the food-obsessed maniac who approaches her every week with bags of something new to eat. That doesn't mean she's completely retired from the kitchen. She's opened a traveling food cart of shorts out of her Volvo wagon trunk. Whenever I see her she automatically opens up the trunk door, rummages through a dozen or so grocery bags and fruit boxes, and pulls out enough food to feed 6 people for a week. Since it's just me with not much room for storage, I usually have to do a little editing out of stuff. But she doesn't make it easy an easy process and I inevitably end up tossing much of it in the trash.

Last week I shamefully found myself with a whole basket full of overripe persimmons. I tried to cut them up and finish them off, but they would just collapsed into a pile of mush. Then I realized these had a nice hard shell that could serve as their own cups, and that's when the fun began. I lopped off the stem with a paring knife, nestled the fruit in a little bowl and dug in with a little spoon like a pint of ice cream. They were so much fun to eat I managed to finish off the entire basket - about ten of them. So if you ever find yourself with too many ripe persimmons that your mom tried to force feed on you, you now have a good technique for finishing them off.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Kitchen wounds I've suffered so far include:
• Deep knife cuts through the nail and into the soft flesh beneath
• Vegetable peeler cuts
• Mandoline nicks (very much like paper cuts, but 5 times worse - small, but painful)
• Microplane-grated knuckles
• Burns (luckily small and scar-free)

And this just in from last night's duty:
• Carrot blisters

The carrot blister sits above the very first crease of my right index finger. It developed last night while cutting 2 quarts of carrots into cubes. The cubes were neither small nor large, so I was a bit confounded as to which knife technique to use. Shamefully, it took me almost an hour to achieve 2 quarts. Half way there, I developed this blister, and it now accompanies the 2 microplane nicks I acquired on Saturday. It's by far the weirdest kitchen wound yet. My right hand feels as though it should look like a cartoon finger that swells up cherry red and throbs like an elephant's heart. At least I'm not in Adam's shoes. He lopped off about half of his thumbnail with a peeler last week. Or Ben, who had a nasty burn that re-opened last night.

Strangely, I don't mind this part of kitchen work, and maybe even a bit fascinated by it. Perhaps I developed a hyper-high tolerance for pain at an early age when I fell into a big pot of scalding water and received permanent second degree wounds on both my arms. Maybe because of this, perhaps in my subconscious, I believe scars and wounds come with a story. And as with all kitchen tales, I'm mighty interested.

The rest of the night was pretty low-key. I gave props to Chiquito, who usually prepares those carrot cubes every day (but in 20 minutes). And I helped Adam put together some mise en place for ChefX's upcoming cooking demonstration at Degustibus.

First up was an orange powder. Zest 20 oranges, cook them in boiling sugar water for 20 minutes, spread them out on a baking sheet, pat dry with paper towel, and slowly dry them in oven for 3-4 hours at 200 degrees. When they're completely dry, but with original color intact, grind them to a powder in a a coffee/spice grinder and set aside at room temperature. According to David Bouley, citrus powder not only adds flavor to meats, poultry and fish, but it helps them to caramelize when baking or sautéing. Next, bring 2 cups of rice vinegar with 1 cup of water to a boil. Throw in a cup of coriander seeds and boil for 5 minutes. Let cool and store in fridge. ChefX will be using both these components in a yellowtail dish.

In between tasks, I observed plating, tasted a fois gras terrine (I don't get what the fuss is all about), and chatted with the wait and kitchen staff. Even after experiencing 2 quarts of oddly-sized carrot cubes, the bane of my life, I long to be back in the kitchen of RestoX, where it's beginning to feel like home.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Homemade Oreo cookies

Yes, you heard right. Oreo cookies. Made at home. They were tasty. Almost exactly like the original, except the creme tastes like food, not wax. The beauty of making them at home is you have control over what goes into them (no hydrogenated oils), how much filling to use, and you can get creative with other flavors if you're so inclined (Mint! Peanut butter! Chocolate! Green tea!).

Some notes on the recipe: A small 3/4" ball of dough will yield a cookie of about 2 1/2 inches. The dough spreads like crazy, so make sure to space them well apart from each other. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty!

Homemade Oreo cookies
Adapted from Retro Desserts, via Smitten Kitchen
For the chocolate wafers:
11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room-temperature
1 large egg

For the filling:
1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup non-hydrongenated vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees.
2. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
3. Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately 2 inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
4. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2-3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
5. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.
6. Enjoy with a large glass of milk.

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies