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

Friday, March 14, 2008

The fancy French guy and the broke-down guy

This is too good. Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert return to the line, cooking sweating, and sipping tequila. I love Bourdain's self-deprecating voice here, and the fancy-pants, "I don't cook" portrait he paints of Ripert, "Eric cooks like most big boys of his caliber these days, meaning... not much. He tastes. He conceptualizes. He creates." So true to a comment once made by ChefX, who used to work at Le Bernardin.

Though Monday night at RestoX comes nothing close to being this busy, the video really captures the energy, the rhythm, and dynamic between the staff at the heat of service in a professional kitchen: "No matter how many people you cook for, no matter how fast, more will take their place. You have to keep swimming, swimming, and swimming upstream."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In season: parsley

Yay! Today felt so much like spring! I know, I know, it's still 40 degrees out and I'm still donning my Michelin Man down coat with overkill scarf and all, but the light...the quality of light! When I got out of the office at 5:30 today, it still felt like I had an entire day ahead of me. The sun was just exceptionally shiny today and I couldn't help but feel giddy.

But now, what to eat? It's March. It's the bitter end of the cold season, and as much as I hate to admit it, I'm sick and tired of hearty vegetables and anything that resembles a root. Butternut squash, go away. Cauliflower and kale, see you next fall.
I am so ready to bite into a big fat wedge of juicy watermelon, but all I see are boxes and boxes of clementines which normally give me much comfort with their promise of plenty, but now only serve as a reminder that: It's. Still. Winter.

Luckily, I receive plenty of spam from various food-related publications to inspire me to keep eating. Last week, the BBC newsletter informed me that parsley is in season, being one of the only herbs that are hearty enough to withstand the chill of this time of year. It inspired me to think up a dish using it as the star ingredient. Some time on the treadmill that night made me crave pasta, and with so many lemons left over from the candied peels and olive oil cake, I put together a simple, almost summery dish of the simplest of ingredients: parsley, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan. So quick, easy, and refreshingly non-winter-like.

Notes on the recipe: I added some fried garlic slivers (a la RestoX style), but this is purely optional. It's deep-fried goodness that adds a nice texture and flavor contrast. I also used a pasta made of kamut, a high-protein grain similar to wheat, but with better nutritional value. The texture is satisfyingly al dente and may be a good choice for people who've tried whole wheat pasta and have vowed never to go there again (me).

Recipe: Pasta with parsley, lemon and garlic
For optional fried garlic slivers:
1 clove garlic, sliced uniformly (a mandoline makes this easier)

Prepare boiling, salted water for the pasta. In the meantime, heat a shallow pool of olive oil in a small pan over medium-low heat. Carefully drop in garlic slivers in 1 layer and fry until lightly golden (don't overcook or it will become bitter). Drain onto paper towels, toss with a little salt, and set aside.

For the pasta:
1/2 lb pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 to 1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1/4 cups rough chopped parsley (or parsley chiffonade if you feel like torturing yourself)
2 teaspoons lemon zest (or more to taste)
teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste

1. Cook pasta in boiling, well-salted water until done.Toss with some olive oil to keep from sticking.
2. Heat a small pan over medium heat. Add oil and butter (if using) and allow to heat for a minute.
3. Add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute.
4. In a large bowl (or the pot used for boiling pasta), toss the garlic with pasta and the remaining ingredients.
5. Enjoy immediately with grated Parmesan and garlic slivers.

For your information, other produce in season this precarious month:
Courtesy of BBC
purple broccoli

And next month? Strawberries!!!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lavender honey bunches

This past weekend, I did a little clean-up of my magazine basket which was overflowing with stacks of printed recipes, issues of Edible Brooklyn, Bon Appetite, and the occasional Economist (when I feel I've become too engrossed in all things food).

Within the stack of recipes, I came across this one that uses fresh lavender and
gave it a whirl remembering a precious stash of organic lavender that a friend gave to me and some really good butter that's been sitting in my fridge too long.

Lavender can often taste soapy and overpowering in desserts, but it does well with the strong flavors of honey, coconut and butter. They bake crispy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, with only a subtle hint of lavender.
If you're lucky enough to have some good-quality organic lavender around, this is too easy a recipe not to employ.

Recipe: Lavender honey bunches

From Purpole Haze Lavender
3 cups quick oats
2 cups flaked coconut
1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon dried lavender

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine oats, coconut, and flour in a large mixing bowl.
3. In a heavy sauce pan bring butter, honey, sugar and lavender to a boil. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Drop dough by the spoonful into muffin tins or cookie sheets, making each one about 1-2 inches high.
5. Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden, being careful NOT to overbake. Cool in the tins/sheets for 15 minutes before removing.

Olive oil, chocolate and sea salt. Who knew?

Yes, I'm on an olive oil kick. Olive oil in desserts, that is. A while back, I was intrigued by a recipe I spotted on delicious: days for a chocolate mousse with olive oil. I had the recipe lingering around for months until I got a hold of some good quality chocolates this weekend - a Valrhona bittersweet. Midway into the making of this mousse, I felt like it needed a little kick. But what? Chili? Green tea? Cinnamon? I did a little digging around and discovered that this was a typical dessert in Spain, finished off with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Sea salt! Could this dessert be any more intriguing?

As funky as the combination sounds, it's nothing new to the Spaniards who have enjoyed this joyful marriage of flavors for decades. According to Chowhound:
This thrilling Dalí-esque marriage of flavors—dark chocolate and fruity olive oil, with a strange and wonderful accent of salt—seems to spell out nueva cocina. But actually, Catalan chocolate–olive oil desserts go back further in time. As historians have told me, after World War II, when luxury ingredients such as chocolate were strictly rationed, Catalans would melt a piece of chocolate, spread it on toast, and sprinkle olive oil and a bit of salt on top for a sweet-savory treat. Avant-garde chefs took the idea and ran with it.

After I composed the various parts (no baking is required), I took a little spoonful, sprinkled it with a little sea salt and... the sky opened up, angels came down from heaven, and I heard the singing of halleluja. Well, almost. It was 2:00 a.m. and I was feeling a little loopy as it is, so these flavors felt like a revelation. Not too sweet, with a hint of the olive oil, and the perfect touch of light flakes of sea salt. It's just so good. Now, if only I could get the texture to behave...

Recipe: Chocolate mousse with olive oil and flaky sea salt
Adapted from delicious: days

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):
200g good-quality dark chocolate such as Valrhona or Callebaut
1/2 cup olive oil, preferably a fruity, peppery one

3 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar, divided*
200ml heavy cream
Fleur de sel or other flaky sea salt

Slowly melt the chopped chocolate in a bain-marie (double-boiler) while continuously
stirring. Add the olive oil until evenly combined. Put aside and let cool slightly.

Beat the egg yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar until the cream turns pale and thick.

In a separate bowl beat the egg whites and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until stiff (holds stiff glistening peaks).

In another bowl whip heavy cream until stiff.

Transfer chocolate/olive oil mix to a large bowl and carefully fold in one after another: start with the creamy egg yolks, then the stiff egg whites and lastly the whipped cream. Fill in nice serving bowls, sprinkle with the smallest pinch of salt, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

*Note: I just assumed this was regular granulated sugar, so that's what I used, but most other recipes I saw called for confectioner's sugar. I will give this a try next time as it would probably would create a lighter, smoother texture.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Una mujer buena

Lupe is back from Mexico! It so good to see him again. We never exchange more than a few words with each other, but today we had an pretty extensive (by Lupe's standards) conversation about his trip back home, and discovered that he really wants to find a wife. He told me his first wife passed away 5 years ago, leaving him with 5 children. How this man managed to raise all those kids alone while working in a kitchen is a mystery to me, but I'm starting to see these are kinds of stories that float around RestoX. Lupe, the honest, hard-working machine with hands marked with years of intense labor... I hope he will find himself a good woman.

It was a quiet and productive day today. Adam is now giving me a personal list of tasks for the day, scribbled on a paper towel (the standard note paper in professional kitchens):

Roasted peppers

Mincing shallots:
I got reacquainted with shallots today, not having done them in a while. Weeks ago, when I watched Adam mince them, I noticed that he hardly threw away anything, not even the ends. The ends are a bit tricky to mince, having nothing to hold onto and being of an irregular shape. It was a satisfying challenge to mimic Adam's way of working, especially after seeing how much goes to waste in restaurants in general.

Roasted pepper confit salad:
Adam roasted some red and yellow peppers, doused with olive oil. I then peeled off the skin, divided them into quarters, and cut them crosswise into julienned strips. He had me toss these with olive oil, sherry vinegar, capers, salt and pepper. When I tasted it, I changed my mind about roasted peppers. I like them, made just like this.

Mashed potatoes:
Or shall I say, "Cream and butter, with some potatoes as a binding agent?" Heat undisclosable amount of butter and cream in pan. Meanwhile, cut a few pounds of potatoes into uniform sizes (the uniform sizes being important enough for Adam to repeat it twice), boil them in well-salted water until very tender, and drain. At RestoX, they like to use a hand-cranked food-mill for the potatoes, which helps to keep from over-mixing them, a practice that creates a gluey texture. Texture comes out light, fluffy and lump-free, and when mixed with the cream and butter, ridiculously smooth and creamy.

One thing I'm learning about myself and cooking is that I have a mortifying fear of over-salting anything. When I first started to cook for myself a few years back, I ruined many hours of hard labor going overboard with salt. So now I season with a tentative hand. To me, the socco batter tasted pretty well-seasoned, if not over-seasoned. But when Segundo tasted it, he threw in another a few more tablespoons of salt, making it taste so much better. How does he know how to season so perfectly? Does it come from practice, or is it instinctual? This is the secret to being a good cook, one that I hope to someday own.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I'm not Japanese

That was just weird. On Tuesday, I took Knife Skills 1 class at the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICE) thinking it would teach me some basic techniques I may have missed. The lessons were really basic, like how to hold a knife and what kind of cutting board to use (wood). As with any instructional class, you can always pick up new tidbits of knowledge, like cutting from the back half of the knife for short things and starting from the tip end for tall things. He also had an interesting technique for dicing onions and shallots, at the edge of the cutting board which could never be applied at RestoX just because of the time factor. I thought we would be chopping mountains and mountains of vegetables for practice, but no. Just a single carrot, a single stalk of celery and an onion. In the end, we core a tomato and turned the thinly-removed skin into a rose. That'll really come in handy at RestoX!

For most of the class, the instructor kept going on and on about Wüsthof knives, like he was their ambassador or something. He kept saying, "The heavier the knife the better," and, "You can purchase them here today at a discount." I felt like I was in an infomercial. At one point, he looked at me and mentioned Japanese knives, and how it would take a whole other class to discuss those.

Then in the end, when he began to "chop" the parsley, I asked about the backwards slicing technique and how we're not allowed to "chop" herbs in the restaurant I work at. He said, "Well, if the Japanese do that, then that's how you should do it." Ha! At that moment I suddenly saw ChefX, Adam, Segundo and Chiquito rolling sushi, wearing kimonos and getas.

O.k., ChefX, this is your Rock Head Theory proof #1.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Loving: lemon olive-oil cake

Most of you who know me know that I like to bake cakes above all else. There's something deeply satisfying about every step of the process, going from a simple heap of flour and sugar to something that gives people a sense of celebration and special occasion.

I baked this cake for no other occasion than to try out the appealing flavor combination - lemon and olive oil. It presents itself as a very simple and rustic cake with no frosting or decoration, and the rugged and imperfect look of it made it all the more appealing to me. The olive oil replaces butter entirely, so I dare to call it relatively healthy as far as cakes go. It would also be a good recipe for vegans. You don't miss the butter at all because the flavor of the olive oil shines through, and makes the cake incredibly moist.

The cake good enough to can stand on its own, but for extra moisture and something refreshing, I served it with some creme fraiche mixed with Meyer lemon zest and confectioner's sugar on the side. I also sprinkled the top of the cake with just a little confectioner's sugar and the candied lemon peels I made earlier this week. So simple, easy and yummy! This one's definitely a keeper.

Recipe: Lemon olive-oil cake
Adapted from Epicurious

3/4 cup olive oil (extra-virgin if desired), plus additio
nal for greasing pan
2 large organic lemons or 3 organic Meyer lemons
1 cup organic cake flour (not self-rising) or pastry flour
5 large organic eggs, separated into 5 yolks and 4 whites (use the extra egg white for your morning eggs)
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (separate sugar into th
ree parts: 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup and 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Special equipment: an 8 or 9-inch (24-cm) springform pan; parchment paper; electric mixer


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Grease springform pan with some oil, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Oil parchment.

Finely grate enough lemon zest to measure 3 teaspoons and whisk together with flour. Halve lemon, then squeeze and reserve 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (mixture may appear separated).

Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined (once you add the flour, the batter will start to bubble like hot lava - cool!)

Beat 4 egg whites with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.

Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer cake to a serving plate.

Cake can be made 1 day ahead and wrapped well or stored in a cake keeper at room temperature.

Some notes on the recipe:
• I splurged on a really fruity, good quality extra-virgin olive oil, but you can also use non extra-virgin olive oil if you want a more subtle olive oil flavor.
Don't be afraid to add more lemon zest and lemon juice than called for - here I doubled what was on the original Epicurious site.
Experiment with regular and Meyer lemons. Meyer lemon rinds tend to be sweeter, with a more subtle lemon flavor.
I used a great stone-ground organic pastry flour instead of cake flour, and it made for a very tender cake. I think the recipe seems flexible enough that you can use all-purpose flour if you don't have either pastry or cake flour on hand.
I reduced the temperature to 325 degrees to too-quick browning at the top. Adjust to 350 depending on your oven and the size of your pan.