What a bummer that this week had to come to an end, because it was one of those highly auspicious weeks when the Heavens open up and start pouring good fortunes down on you as if there is no tomorrow.
Just in case you have not observed it as yet, good fortunes usually arrive in downpours. Triplets, to be more precise. Snafus do to. Like you break a glass, or you lose a necklace, or you overcook a dish. And then something else follows, as if you break your glasses, or you lose your wallet, or a blade on your brand new blender breaks into pieces. And that is when you know that you are doomed, and that the baby number three is coming down your way, waiting to hit when you are at your weakest. Three times is the charm.
But let's move back to good fortunes... First came an email from Michael Procopio. Do I know any Michael Procopios, I wondered as I scanned the subject line. Nope. Except for the dude who writes Food for the Thoughtless blog (a mighty good read and you should check it out), but that Michael Procopio had no reason to write because we had never met. Turns out it was Food for the Thoughtless Michael Procopio, and he was writing to congratulate me on the IACP nomination.
And that is how I learned that I am one of the International Association of Culinary Professionals 2016 Awards finalists in the narrative culinary blog category!
I have always thought that my lens is my strongest point, and then my spatula. Writing has always come last; it is something I would not even dare to consider for the inclusion on the strong points list. But the nomination was there, in the pdf of the press announcement, and in the Eater article that followed. It sounded too good to be true. But it was still there when I checked for like seventh time.
That was a moment when the world around me began oscillating with a frequency of pure umami.
A day later, as I was flipping through the latest posts on Food52, I realized that my Duck Meatballs a L’Orange are in the finals of Food52's The Recipe You're Most Proud Of contest. In the meantime, the umami baby No. 3 had departed its little place in the destiny cabinet, and made its way to my home swiftly, because when I arrived from work there was a big cardboard box waiting in the lobby. And by big, I mean seriously big, it was practically the size of our tiny lobby and I had to jump over it to get into the apartment.
My Wolf Gourmet stainless steel set had arrived!
A couple of days ago, the good folks from Wolf Gourmet wrote me an email. An act, which I now realize, was the onset of the umami vibes. They offered to sponsor one of my posts, and send me a brand new Wolf Gourmet cookware set. No strings attached, I just had to cook in it and take a photo. I do not usually do sponsored posts, but I was dying to try Wolf Gourmet steel (let's be honest -- ain't we all, no matter what our position on sponsored posts might be), and could not help the urge, so I wrote back.
And that is where things began to get interesting.
As I unpacked the goodies, I realized that I have never had so much stainless steel in my life! I have not even seen so much stainless steel in my life. My lack of stainless steel awareness has something to do with an effort to be a kitchen minimalist; it is also driven by the space-constraints of a NYC apartment; but mostly it comes from a struggle to protect my wallet and my savings from myself -- I can easily get carried away and as soon as I open up my purse, I am on my way to ruination. As a result, I stay away from kitchen stores, catalogs and websites. This approach might lead to some serious kitchen ignorance (case in point, up until a week ago I had no idea what a spiralizer is, until I saw it on Suzanne's blog), but at least it is a guarantee for financial security and peace in the family.
Wolf Gourmet is seriously spoiling me with their box of goodies. Just take a look at the photo. And no, they did not provide the veggies -- that would have been too much to ask, don't you think? The veggies came in later, as I was contemplating what to cook in order to put all pieces to a good use in one single day. I needed to fry, make a broth, poach and/or sauté something, fry some more, and perhaps make a sauce...
You might not have realized it, but cooking in a brand new designer steel is a daunting task. The steel is looking at you, all shiny, sharp and imposing, very serious and very Michelin-star-looking, and it is sort of telling you, "You better cook some grown up food in me, don't you even dare scramble those eggs. You better start behaving in the kitchen!" I was sort of planning on scrambling eggs this weekend and ordering a pizza in an act of kitchen procrastination, but my new cookware made me think new culinary thoughts, it made me want to push some kitchen boundaries and cook some serious Michelin-style foods. And that is how my "Michelin menu" was born. Not that I consider myself a Michelin-star-culinary-quality, please bear that in mind if you ever make an attempt at these dishes. But hey, ninety nine percent of us who are into weekend cooking and culinary experimentation do it for fun and not fame -- having fun in and out of kitchen is all that matters, and the pots and the menu promised to be a lot of fun.
My new pots also made me rethink photography and food styling. As I began to arrange the set on the floor, I realized that the shiny steel does not talk to my props. The pans are razor-sharp modern, in a Nathan-Myhrvold-kind-of-way. They do not get friendly with vintage cutlery, broken plates, lace and scratched surfaces. I have not photographed modernist objects and Michelin food before, I have not even tried plating Micheling food, and the photos for my menu presented a challenge. I must have re-plated the veggies at least eight times, until I was ready to put the creation in front of the camera.
"Perfect!" I said overflowing with relief, when the plate finally looked photographable.
"No Mama," Miss Pain remarkd from her viewing spot in the kitchen, "it is not perfect, but it's the best you can do."
Miss Pain's cheer of confidence aside, it was one fun project. Many thanks to the folks from Wolf Gourmet and Bloomingdales for the opportunity. I managed to use almost ALL the steel in one single day, and I look forward to subjecting my new pots and pans to a long-term kitchen test. But what's even more important is that we celebrated the IACP nomination in style, and that the new steel made me jump out of my culinary comfort zone, and pushed my photo-taking in a new direction. For better or worse, I am not sure, but new boundaries ought to be crossed, and as we all know, that's where all the fun is.
Herbed Cauliflower Couscous with Pan Charred Spring Vegetables
* 1 large cauliflower, (about 2 - 2 1/2 lbs in total, or about 1 1/2 lbs cauliflower florets)
* 12 oz tender, young asparagus
* 9 oz shelled fresh English peas
* 6 spring onions, white and light green parts only (about 8 oz in total when cleaned)
* about 4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
* juice of one lemon
* 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley and dill each (optional as not everyone likes dill)
* salt and freshly ground pepper
First prepare the couscous. Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure to leave behind as much of the stem as possible. Chop the florets into smaller pieces. Transfer the cauliflower into food processor in batches, and pulse until the pieces are finely chopped and resemble couscous. Be careful not to over-process.
In a large sauté pan, heat three tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the cauliflower couscous to the pan and cook for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the couscous from the heat and let it cool. Add lemon juice, and if using, parsley and dill. Season with salt and pepper.
Wash and dry all vegetables. Cut off the bottom third of the asparagus, as the bottoms of the stalks are tougher and will cook differently. Discard or keep for a different use. Cut off the tips of the asparagus. Cut the remaining stalks into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Cut the spring onions into 1/4-inch-thick pieces.
In a large pan or wok, heat about half a tablespoon of olive oil (just about enough to lightly oil the entire bottom of the pan). Heat the oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the asparagus. (Be careful not to overcrowd a pan, the vegetables should cover the bottom in one layer, if you have more, do this in batches.) Stir-fry the asparagus while stirring constantly, for about four to five minutes, until it is gently charred all over. Test for doneness: the asparagus should be easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, or simply try a piece to see if it is soft enough and according to your liking. Remove the asparagus from the pan and place it in a bowl. Return the pan to the stove. Add another drop of olive oil to the pan and heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the peas, and stir-fry, while stirring constantly, until the peas are gently charred all over, about two minutes. Remove the peas from the pan and add them to the asparagus. Return the pan to the stove. Add the spring onions and cook for about two minutes, until onions begin to soften. (Be careful not to overcook the onions, they should have a nice bite to them and not fall apart.) Add the spring onions to asparagus and pea mixture. Season the vegetables generously with salt and pepper.
Spoon the couscous into individual plates and top with vegetables. (Or you can mix them all in one big bowl.) Serve.
Serves 4 - 6
Fennel-Tomato Broth Poached Cod with Rice Vermicelli
for the broth
* 3 large fennel bulbs (about 3 1/2 lbs), cut into thin ribs
* 1 large yellow onion (about 10 oz), cut into thin ribs
* 1 lb tomatoes, sliced
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 8 cups of water
* 1 small carrot (about 1 oz), chopped into 1-inch pieces
* 1 small parsnip (about 1 oz), chopped into 1-inch pieces
* 3 celery stalks (about 2 oz), chopped into 1-inch pieces
* 3 thyme sprigs
* 2 small fresh bay leaves
* 1 knob of ginger (about 1/2 oz), cut into a couple of slices
* 1 tbsp coriander seeds
* 1 tsp black peppercorns
* 1 small garlic clove
* 1 tsp rice vinegar
for the dish
* 1 lb cod fillets, cut into four or eight pieces
* 6-8 oz rice vermicelli
* slices of tomato (for garnish)
In a soup pot, mix the olive oil and onions. Place the pot over medium heat and simmer until onion begins to soften. Add the fennel, mix well and continue to simmer, for another ten or so minutes. Add the tomatoes, mix well, and sauté half covered for about another 30 to 40 minutes, until fennel is very soft, but not quite falling apart. Stir occasionally. If needed, adjust the heat to maintain the sauté and prevent vegetables from browning.
While fennel is sautéing, heat a small skillet over medium heat and add black pepper and coriander. Toast the pepper and coriander briefly, let cool and crack gently with a pestle or another heavy object.
When fennel is ready, add the water, carrots, parsnip, celery, bay leaf, ginger, thyme, black pepper, coriander, rice vinegar and a pinch of salt to the pot. Bring to a simmer, over medium to high heat, and then reduce heat to keep the liquid at bare simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer lined with two to three layers of cheesecloth (strainer is a must, cheesecloth is optional). Taste and season with salt to taste. (You can prepare the broth a day ahead and store in the fridge. Or freezer even longer.)
When ready to poach the cod, in a large sauté pan bring the broth to simmer. Place the cod into the pan in one layer. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until cod is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, for about 5 to 7 minutes (thicker pieces will take longer to cook). Using a spatula, transfer the fillets to a large plate.
In the meantime cook the vermicelli. Bring a large skillet of water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice vermicelli and boil until al dente, about two minutes (or according to manufacturer's instructions). Drain the vermicelli and transfer to shallow bowls. Ladle the fennel tomato broth all around, and top with cod. Garnish with tomato, and serve right away.
Serves 4 - 6
Yellow Pepper Pate de Fruits
pates de fruit
* 2-3 large yellow Holland peppers (about 2 - 2 1/2 lbs)
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup glucose syrup
* 2 tsp apple pectin powder
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp kosher salt
* two embossed baking silicon molds for making petit fours, I used the following, http://www.nycake.com/SunflowerSmallSiliconeBakingMold.78oz.aspx
* fine mesh sieve
* food/candy thermometer
Mix pectin with three tablespoons of sugar.
Wash the peppers thoroughly, remove stems and seeds and chop the peppers into pieces. Place the peppers in a blender or food processor and process into smooth puree. Work the puree through a fine mesh sieve; it will yield bright yellow juice. Measure out one and half cups of juice. (Discard the pulp. Or not, if you sauté it with onions and garlic for a while, and let it chill, it makes for a wonderful spread. But one thing at a time...)
Place the pepper juice in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the juice reaches the boil, remove from the heat and slowly add the pectin-sugar mixture while whisking continuously. Return the saucepan to the stove. Once pectin is incorporated, add the remaining sugar in several batches. Continue to whisk until the liquid comes to a boil again. Add salt and glucose. Continue to boil, while whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 228°F-230°F. (This will take a while, about 20 plus minutes, depending on the size of the pan, the quantity of the liquid and the heat. If you are not using instant-read thermometer, test the candy by dipping the spoon into it and putting it aside for a couple of seconds.) Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice.
Brush the silicon molds lightly with oil (it is not a must, but it will be a little bit easier to remove them.) Pour the hot jelly into the molds and let it cool at room temperature. (I usually leave the candies in overnight.) Once the jelly has set, remove the candies from the mold.
I like to serve the candies with some nice aged cheese, and drops of saba (grape muct reduction) or really good aged balsamic. Perhaps some nuts. And I do not like to coat the candies in sugar, it's just too much sweetness in one bite. But if you would like to do so, toss them in caster sugar right before serving.
Makes about 24 candies