Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pan-roasted pork chops with balsamic fig sauce and garlic chopped kale with a kick

On a Sunday evening, after running errands, tending to the chickens, tending to what's left of the garden, and chopping up the half of the 30+yr maple that fell in the wet snowstorm we had earlier this week, I thought Mr. Rose deserved a nice home cooked meal. The only problem was that I was along side him doing everything but the heavy lifting, and I was pretty drained too. So the nice home cooked meal had to be quick and simple. It was. From start to finish, I had the table set and was ringing the dinner bell in 30 minutes.

The trick to making a quick dinner quickly is knowing when you have a few minutes between cooking one thing to work on another thing. For this simple dinner, I prepped the kale while the pork was roasting and cooked it while the balsamic fig sauce was roasting.

Reducing sauce
Stir-frying kale

Now that you know this, take a look at the recipes below and let me know whether these logistics work as well for you.

Pan-roasted pork chops with balsamic fig sauce (serves 4)
4 x 6 oz. center cut boneless pork chops, cut about 1 inch thick
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 c chicken stock (or turkey stock, which is what I had after Canadian Thanksgiving)
1 tsp minced thyme
4 tbsp fig spread (the kind you might find in the cheese section at the store)
coarse salt and ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pat the pork chops dry and generously sprinkle both sides with the salt and pepper. Preheat a cast iron skillet (or other heavy-bottomed skillet that can go in the oven) over medium-high heat. You want the pan so hot that a drop of water will sizzle and evaporate quickly, but not so that it skitters across the pan before it disappears -- if it does that, the pan is too hot.

Add oil and tilt skillet to coat. Throw the pork chops in with a bit of space between them. Let them sear for about 2 minutes so that they are well-browned and easily lift up off the skillet with tongs. Once browned on that side, flip the chops over and sear the other side for another minute. Then transfer to the oven and roast for 5-8 minutes, when the meat is just firm (or if you need scientific precision, till a meat thermometer registers 145 degrees F in the center of the chop). Set the skillet on the stove top, remove the chops to a plate and tent with foil to keep them warm. Heat the skillet on medium and deglaze the pan with the stock and balsamic vinegar. Reduce to 1/2 cup of liquid, about 5 minutes. Add thyme and fig spread, stirring slowly. Reduce again to 1/4 cup of liquid. Plate and serve with pork chops.

Garlic Chopped Kale with a Kick
16 stalks of kale
4 tbsp olive oil
6 anchovy fillets
2 large cloves of garlic
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c water
salt to taste

Wash kale and remove ribs. Chop coarsely. Mince garlic and anchovies. In a large saute pan (I used a wok), heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and anchovies, stirring constantly so nothing burns. Add the chopped kale and stir fry the mixture. Add salt to taste (I used just a pinch of kosher salt and that was right). As the kale starts to wilt, toss in the red pepper flakes. Add 1/4 cup of water and stop stirring for 30 seconds or so, until all of the water has steamed off. Stir again, then add another 1/4 cup of water and let sit again for 30 seconds. Stir, add more salt or red pepper flakes to taste. Plate next to your tasty pork chops and serve!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving for most Americans is more than a month away. People are just now starting to make arrangements to travel home. They're looking forward to the family gathering or dreading this year's family drama. They're making peace with the fact that they won't be eating their mom's special turkey stuffing because they're spending it with the in-laws this year.

For me, it's different. I celebrate Thanksgiving a month and a half early because it's when the Canadian do it. This year marks my 9th year of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving in America.

My mom, though she dutifully hosted Thanksgiving for our family every year, must have hated the pressure to getting a giant bird and cooking a giant meal. I think it stressed her out to entertain a house full of people. The rest of us tip-toed around her, wondering whether her surly mood, which would magically disappear when guests arrived, would return once everyone left. One year, while I was in law school, my sisters used their college mid-term exams as an excuse not to go home for Thanksgiving. Inspired by their brilliant plan to avoid Mom's wrath, I followed suit and decided to stay in Washington, D.C. as well. Since Dad was out of town, Mom decided to ditch the rest of the relatives and come to D.C. And I decided to show her what it meant to throw a dinner party without becoming a basket case. That was the inaugural Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner at my house.

It was the first dinner party I'd had with more than 6 people in attendance. I'm not sure why I thought I could calmly host 21 for a seated dinner at my tiny 650 s.f. two-bedroom Capitol Hill apartment with my Tiger Mother breathing down my neck, but I was confident that I could. And I did.

I can't say I've never internally lost my cool while preparing for a big dinner party in the last 9 years. There have been a few disasters, one that irretrievably ruined my reputation (which included both an unfortunate slime of pureed onions and a hand spasm that caused an explosion of cinnamon to go flying into a curry just seconds before I served it to the features editor of the local rag at Speakeasy Kitchen). But I've never had a crisis that I couldn't work through and I've certainly never thought, "This isn't fun anymore." So what's my secret? No secret. I love feeding people. How could you ever not have fun doing what you love? But if you're not in love with feeding people like I am, I suppose there are still a few things you can do that will help you get through your next holiday dinner a little more stress-free.

Tip #1: Accept help.
If you're throwing a really big dinner party, go ahead and let people help out. People will always offer. You already know who's reliable and tidy, who's a good cook, who's the best pastry chef, who's a conscientious dish-washer, who brings the good wine, and who brings the crappy Yellow Tail. If you're hoping to throw the best possible dinner party, accept offers to help and maybe even enlist the competent help you know. If you're a perfectionist and trust no one to help out, you will suffer alone (or you'll make everyone around you suffer with you <ahem, Mom>).

Tip #2: Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
This goes out to the perfectionist again. Hosting a big holiday meal is no small feat. Everyone knows that. No one is expecting perfection. And good is pretty damn good enough. So chill out a little bit, try to enjoy the warmth and lovely smells of the kitchen, and look forward to breaking bread with loved ones. Dinner is going to be just fine.

Tip #3: Self-medicate... moderately.
Hey, I get it. We can't all just chill out at the drop of a hat, especially when there's so much to get done in so little time. You know that wine you were going to deglaze that pan with? Take a sip. Take two. Just don't overdo it. There is, after all, a lot of work to be done in the kitchen. Tipple too much and you might not get it all done, much less competently. The turkey needs to be basted regularly and it won't get basted if you're wasted.

Tip #4: Deep-fry your turkey.
Since we're on the topic of basting, let's explore the issue a little bit. Seven of my last nine Thanksgivings were spent diligently basting the bird every fifteen minutes for several hours on Thanksgiving. It's a necessary evil if you want to roast an evenly browned bird that would be tender and moist. That, along with brining, injecting, salt-rubbing, flipping the bird halfway through the roasting, flipping the bird three times during the roasting, etc. I've tried every method under the sun and have never had a dry breast so long as I was diligent about basting. Yes, the bird is heavy. Yes, it barely fit in the oven when making turkey for 30. Yes, I burnt my hands, arms, and elbows on the roasting pan or the sides of the oven when reaching in to make sure every square inch of the bird got basted. But it must be done when roasting a bird. So I basted religiously. Until I discovered the deep-fried turkey. It's all the deliciousness (and then some) of the most perfectly basted bird without any of the hassle. All I use is an overnight dry rub under the turkey's skin consisting of freshly minced sage, orange zest, kosher salt, and ground pepper. Oh, and Mr. Rose's strong and steady arm to lower the bird into a vat of hot peanut oil. (See Tip #1). This is the recipe to the most delicious turkey you will ever eat.

Tip #5: Remember that this is supposed to be fun.
Turn on some good music. I don't mean that morbid emo shit. I'm talking fun, upbeat, makes-you-want-to-tap-your-toes-and-dance-with-the-dogs-music. If it's Don't Stop Believing by Journey because you're still not sick of that song, so be it. If it's some hippie bullshit like Grateful Dead and that stuff works for you, so be it. But make sure it's something that'll make you shake your booty. Dancing in the kitchen will lift your spirits and, if one were to believe what one saw in Like Water for Chocolate, your diners will taste your joy. For me this year, it was Don't Stop Believing (because I'm only a little bit sick of it) and the ensuing Genius mix, comprised inexplicably of Led Zepplin, The Beatles, Black Crowes, and Jimi Hendrix. The turkey this year will taste strongly of joy, with a little bit of cheese and a whole lot of rock and roll.

Tip #6: Give in to your inner voice.
Seriously, if you've gotten down to this tip and you're still skeptical that hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be stress-free, entertaining is probably not your thing. If you're already signed up to host this year, consider ordering a ready-made turkey from Whole Paycheck or getting Chinese take-out. Hopefully no one will be terribly disappointed at the substitution of Peking duck for turkey. But you'll have done your duty for the year so you'll be off the hook for Christmas. And for goodness sake, don't volunteer to host Thanksgiving next year.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cooking my way to San Francisco: 30-minute budget-friendly meal

Foodbuzz is hosting a blogger festival in San Francisco (my happy place) and as much as I wanted to go, I just couldn't afford to take the trip. Times are tough! Luckily for me, Foodbuzz offered me a $250 stipend to offset the costs of the trip. I just have to do my part -- write a post about a budget-friendly meal that I whip up out of ingredients I have in my pantry or fridge.

This is the new pantry. Yep, it's as big as the fridge.
People often ask me whether I cook every night. Other than when we're eating out, the answer is yes. I mostly hate leftovers (lasagna and soup are a few other exceptions), so it's a rare meal that doesn't get cooked fresh each night. I'd rather put in an extra 30 minutes to make a quick and simple meal than re-heat a plate of <insert whatever I had last night>. In a 30 minute pinch, here's what happens Chez Rose. We have a gorgeous, wholesome soup.

The garden is key to eating fresh vegetables even on sad days when the refrigerator crisper drawer is empty. If there's anything in the garden, I start there with my soup. It's the beginning of fall, so there's stuff in there, including some kale and this weird looking carrot.

For your edification, the carrot's skin is red, but the flesh is yellow and orange. Funky!

In the fridge, I look for meats, a soup base, and other fresh veggies. There are almost always some mushrooms and some miso paste for soup. On this occasion, there was no meat but I did discover a couple of chicken backs in the freezer so I roasted them, then threw them in a soup pot with some carrots and celery to make a chicken stock. That was a fortuitous find, but in a 30 minute pinch, I'm not to proud to use a good quality chicken soup base either.

In the pantry, I've got grains, noodles, and dried and canned beans. If I were using a miso paste, I might opt for a rice noodle. But with a freshly made chicken stock, I opted for pearl barley.

To balance out the soup with a bit of protein, I had some canned garbanzo and cannellini beans. Mr. Rose got to choose and he went with cannellini beans.

On an average winter day or during a cold stretch in the fall, I'd have some bread dough sitting in the fridge and I'd bake a crusty boule. Last night, there was none. I guess I was pushing my luck with the chicken back treasure.

For the people who need precise recipes, here's how I made this soup (approximately).

30-Minute Soup (serves 3-4)
8 cups of chicken stock
4 handfuls of barley
7 kale leaves, ribs removed (and fed to dogs) and torn into small pieces
1 large misshapen carrot, diced
5 button mushrooms, sliced
1 15 oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken stock to a boil, then add barley. Bring to boil, then lower heat to medium so you have a light boil. Let boil for 5 minutes before adding carrot. Let boil for another 5 minutes before adding kale. Let that cook for another 10 minutes before adding mushrooms and beans. Once the soup comes back to a boil, the beans should be heated through and the soup is ready to serve.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Get your Tour de Harvest tickets!

Have you been wanting to try out a Speakeasy Kitchen dinner but haven't managed to score an invitation? Well now you can BUY YOUR WAY IN
UrbiCulture Community Farms is throwing a progressive dinner party in 8 of its Sunnyside Gardens and I'm cooking at one of them. It's been a hot and rainy summer in Denver, which is more than just a boon to the mosquito population -- it's a boon to local gardens, too! I don't know which garden and I don't know yet what I'll be cooking, but UCCF has a vast variety of fresh produce in the ground so it's sure to be an exciting offering. So get your tickets to the Tour de Harvest and enjoy a lovely fall afternoon with the urban farmers of Denver while eating foods prepared by some great local chefs (and yours truly)!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Sky's the Limit(?)

For the last few years, I've called Denver, Colorado "home." It's not a title I use lightly. I've lived in a lot of places: St. Catharines, a town outside of Niagara Falls; the suburbs of Toronto; Long Island, NY; downtown Montreal; Hong Kong; and Washington, D.C. I can't say I'm "from" Denver, but I do feel quite comfortable and centered here.

Denver is where Mr. Rose (who has also lived in a lot of places) and I came right after we left Washington D.C., which is the city that both of us had resided for the longest time in either of our lives. We bought a house in Denver. We bought a Subaru. We mounted a ski rack on the Subaru. I had to start wearing sunscreen (Mr. Rose who is pale as a sheet has always been diligent with sunscreen). We adopted a (third) dog. We adopted the Colorado lifestyle. This is home like no other place has ever been.

But. There are limitations to living in Colorado. "Ethnic" food usually means Mexican food. Figs on a plate are the thing to get at restaurants (just kidding... but aren't we just about sick of braised pork belly and/or roasted beet and goat cheese salads yet?). H Mart is the only Asian grocery you can get lost in and it's way the hell out in Aurora.

View Larger Map

Then, this morning, I came across this article in the New York Times and was reminded of these shortcomings. Flushing, N.Y. is home to the new Sky Foods Market. This ain't the kind of thing that existed in Flushing, N.Y. when I lived one county over in Long Island. It's 36,000 square feet of live frogs, duck gizzards, and noodles of every shape, size and flour, and it boasts a prepared hot food section, including its own sushi bar. I can picture the mind-boggling variety of fermented tofu and pickled... um... things. I can smell the livestock. I can imagine my hair getting frizzy as I walk through the aisles humidified by the tanks of crazy-looking fish begging me to eat them. Clearly, this place is totally awesome.

Google it, though, and you'll find some nay-sayers. As of today, two grammatically retarded reviewers on Yelp gave it 2-3 stars. And this entitled beyotch whined that it's not serious about "organic."


I'm seriously considering a weekend getaway to Flushing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another day in paradise (with quails, morels, and garlic scapes)

The kitchen renovations aren't quite done yet, but the Speakeasy Kitchen has been back up and running for weeks. Not surprisingly, after 5 months without a functioning kitchen, I enthusiastically went back to cooking, but had forgotten to blog about meal after meal (in part because the computer on which I blog has not yet been reinstalled in the kitchen).

Then came the weekend at J&M's cabin. You may remember this place. Perched on a hill at 9200 ft elevation, and surrounded by beautiful vistas, it's the perfect place to work up an appetite and then cook up a storm. In preparation for the trip, I acquired some quail and morels from Gilt Taste, threw them into a cooler with some locally-sourced heavy cream and garlic scapes, and made the ascent to paradise.
On this particular trip, we drove up through Eleven Mile Canyon, and went for a quick hike. J calls it "The Stairmaster Trail." It was a short but steep climb to some beautiful views.

After a dip and a brief nap on a rock in Eleven Mile River, we headed back to the cabin to make some dinner. M quickly rolled out some fettuccini. He is the master of all things dough and can whip up fettuccini for four in less time than anyone I know. It is M's fault that I cannot eat pasta out of a box anymore. He makes it look so easy (and makes it so tasty) that there is no reason -- not even time savings -- why anyone wouldn't just roll out their own pasta.
While M worked on the fettuccini, I cut up the morels and garlic scapes and made a cream sauce.
J kept busy by keeping our glasses full with pink champagne (ok, technically, it was from the Alsace region... whatever) and zesting the lemon for the quail, which I lightly pan-fried.
Once again, a delicious meal shared with great friends after a lovely day of fun in the sun. I can tell you how I made the meal, but remember that this meal is best shared with friends so you'll have to figure out that part on your own.

Pasta (this is my recipe -- not sure what M did, but there are lots of recipes out there so mess around with them however you like)
Serves 4-6
1 c semolina flour
1-1/2 c unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp fine salt
3 large eggs
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp water

Mix the flours and salt together in the Kitchenaid mixer. Add the liquids and mix until the dough comes together with all ingredients well-blended. Add water 1 tsp at a time if it's too dry and won't hold together, or flour 1 tbsp at a time if it's too sticky. Then pull the dough out and knead it for a few minutes, pulling the dough out, folding it over on itself and flattening it out again. Cover with saran wrap (especially if you're in an arid climate) and let rest for 20 minutes. Then cut the dough up into 8 equal pieces, roll each piece into a ball, and flatten it out a bit so you can roll it through the pasta maker on the thickest setting. Fold into thirds and re-roll. Repeat 2 more times, then continue to roll, adjusting the roller to thinner settings until you reach your desired thickness. Then cut. Repeat for the remaining 7 pieces of dough. Toss finished pasta lightly with semolina so it doesn't stick to itself before you can cook it. Boil in a large pot of salted water for 1-2 minutes.

Morels and Garlic Scapes in Cream Sauce
3/4 lb morels, cleaned and cut into roughly equal sized pieces
10 garlic scapes, cut into 1" lengths
4 tbsp minced chives
1/4 c rose wine
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 c heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Saute scapes in 2 tbsp butter with a pinch of salt for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute till tender. Add wine and reduce for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside the scapes, mushrooms, and liquid. Heat remaining butter in the pan and add flour, stirring quickly and constantly, to make a roux. Add cream, then scapes and mushrooms along with any fluid that accumulated while they sat. Toss in chives, bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pan-fried Quail
6 semi-boneless quail, rinsed and patted dry
2 tbsp olive oil
grated zest of 1 lemon
coarse salt
freshly cracked pepper

Season both sides of the quail with salt, pepper and lemon zest. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Place the quail in the pan and let sit undisturbed for 3-4 minutes and when the quail skin is nicely browned, turn the quail over and let sit for another 3 minutes, or till nicely browned. Remove from the stove and tent with foil for 5 minutes.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Merci, French Press Memos!

It's been two months and we are still without a kitchen. [STATUS UPDATE SIDE NOTE: We've ordered cabinets and they'll be arriving in 2 weeks.] I've watched a deplorable amount of television and eaten unfathomable quantities of pho, chicken fried rice, my usual order at Chipotle (there's only one combination of ingredients that I always order there), and ice cream sandwiches, interspersed with the occasional liquid dinner over the past 8 weeks. For someone who rarely ever cooks the same thing twice in one month, I've demonstrated uncharacteristic tolerance for the mundane in my diet.

I've been making guest appearances in kitchens here and there. Most recently, French Press Memos invited me, mushrooms, and meats into her kitchen so that I could make pate aux champignons and pate de campagne for my French-themed supper club.

There's not a lot that's sexy about pate. It's a whole lot of ground up ingredients, pressed into some sort of a mould or a terrine if you're lucky. But if you put them on some sourdough toast with a bit of good mustard and a little cornichon, and you've got yourself a special treat.

The pate de campagne came from a recipe posted by Cheeseslave, modified only in that I added a bit more salt (oak-smoked, at that) and that I made it with a meat grinder rather than a food processor. The mushroom pate, however, was modified more greatly, and the recipe is here:

Mushroom Pate (adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons minced garlic
20 oz mixed mushrooms (shiitake, portabello, etc.), wiped clean and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt oak-smoked salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon truffle oil
8 ounces softened goat cheese

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until wilted and starting to brown. Add the wine, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the wine is nearly all evaporated, 5 minutes. Add the parsley and truffle oil and cook for 30 seconds.

Let cool till it's cool enough to handle, because the next step is messy. Grind through a meat grinder. Stir in the goat cheese until well combined. Then grind through the finer plate of the meat grinder. Transfer to a decorative ramekin or bowl, cover, and refrigerate until set, 3 to 4 hours. Unmould by gently sliding a knife between the pate and the sides of the bowl and transfer to a plate.

Spreading some Sunshine on a cloudy day

As they say, for every cloud, there is a silver lining. The cloud of my out-of-commission-Speakeasy-Kitchen arrived with an opportunity to be in the New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tastemaker program.* 
I’d been stealing opportunities to cook in friends’ kitchens across the continent, but I found myself with some tasty New Belgium brews and running out of kitchens to impose upon. Not to worry though -- one of my favorite things to do with beer (other than drinking it) is to shove a can of it up a chicken’s butt and that can be done outdoors on a grill, no kitchen required.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t try it with anything other than the stray can of pilsner that occasionally shows up at our house. I use something with a mild flavor that doesn’t impart much more than its moisture to the chicken. But since New Belgium was buying*, I figured, “What the heck?”

Yes, that’s right. New Belgium beers come in a can. And they are mighty delicious, I might add.

According to New Belgium, its Sunshine wheat beer is “a great beer for trouncing thirst.” Not a bad way to impart moisture to chicken. But it gets better than that. The flavor profile includes coriander and orange peel tartness, “settling nicely into a tranquil sea of apple and honey tones.” Well then, what better way to part the clouds than with a little Sunshine? I consulted the Flavor Bible and decided to pair the beer up with some spices on my beer can chicken.
Sunshine Wheat Beer Can Chicken

Whole 3 lb chicken
1 can New Belgium Sunshine wheat beer 
2 tsp oak-smoked salt
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/4 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp chili powder

Preheat grill to 450 degrees F. Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Put all the spices into a small bowl and mix well.

Open up a can of Sunshine and pour out half. I recommend pouring it into your stomach.

Rub 1/4 of the spices into the interior cavity of the chicken. Rub the rest all over the skin. Shove the can up the chicken's butt. Prop the chicken wings up so it has an satisfied air about it while it sits on the can. Set it on the grill where it is not sitting directly over flames, drop the lid on the grill, and let it cook till a meat thermometer reads 170 degrees, about 30-40 minutes. Carefully remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest. The internal temperature will continue to rise while the outside cools. The outside cooling is a critical step -- it's hard to grip a can of beer to pull it out of a cooked chicken butt when it's full of steaming beer. Remove can, carve chicken, and let the sun shine in.
*As part of this Tastemaker program (through Foodbuzz), I received a stipend to make this meal possible.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kitchen hiatus

I'm grouchy.

Not only am I working private practice hours these days, but my kitchen has been out of commission for longer than I can take. What started as a simple flooring job morphed into analysis-paralysis over the choice of cabinetry. And now we're over a week away from being able to make a decision and 4 weeks away from delivery of cabinets. And my inability to cook anything has made me grouchy.

I'm going to Washington, D.C. this weekend and staying with friends. Hopefully someone there will want a home cooked meal.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The unfortunate timing of 5280 Week.

It started so innocently. All I wanted was to put in a few inexpensive finishing touches -- additional lighting, polished floors, and plumbing the second sink. Mr. Rose installed recessed lighting while I was out of town for a girls weekend getaway. He got to plumbing the second sink and I stopped him -- why not finish the floors first? There's a layer of oak under here somewhere. We just have to unveil it and polish it... right?

So we got to work and started tearing away at the vinyl sheeting. Then the second layer of vinyl sheeting. Then the particle board subfloor. Then the second layer of subfloor... you see where this is going. Then we got to the linoleum-asbestos tile, which was glued down to the oak. We're not people who are prone to panic about a material as inert as asbestos, but it quickly became apparent that in order to get to the oak, we'd have to free the asbestos by sanding it off. We had industrial dust masks that were made for asbestos remediation. And we had already taped off the kitchen from the rest of the house to prevent the dust from getting everywhere. But I just didn't want the oak (which wasn't even the first and original layer of floor) that badly.

Which meant that we had to put in new flooring. We'd had some plans, off in the distant future, to replace the cabinets. But there was no time like the present, as long as we were re-doing the floors. We moved decisively, ripping out the cabinets and tearing the floor down to the joists, until all that was left was a 14' x 24' box with an wavy bottom surface, or no bottom surface at all. Mr. Rose ingeniously went to the cellar under the kitchen and jacked up several areas under the floor. And now, we're finally ready to lay down a subfloor.

Here we are, two weeks after embarking on a flooring adventure, with the entire contents of our kitchen spilled out into the dining room and living room. Kitchen cabinets have not yet been ordered, so they are no less than 8-10 weeks away. I thought this blog would subsist on restaurant reviews for a while.

But, it's Restaurant Week, known in Mile-High City as 5280 Week. During 5280 Week, all of Denver's best restaurants are putting out a mediocre three-course meal for two people for $52.80, served by over-extended waitstaff who likely also despise Restaurant Week (which unfortunately spans two weeks) as much as I do. It's not fair to review a restaurant on Restaurant Week. Everyone's reviews are bound to be merde (my last Restaurant Week dinner was at Bistro Vendome, where dinner for 2 took 3 hours because our waiter nowhere to be found, but when he did show up, he arrived with cold, overcooked, albeit delicious, cod, and because we ordered off the 5280 menu, dinner came to $130). This was bad timing indeed.

So. I need a new plan while I am sans cuisine. Now soliciting kitchens. If you have an under-utilized kitchen in Denver, perhaps you could give me a call and I'll come over and cook, eh?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cheddar and chive biscuits are divine.

Please don't write me off as a blogger because I can't remember to take pictures. Please forgive me for being a chef first, eater second, blogger third, and photographer last!

I was invited to J&M's cabin for a girls' weekend getaway last weekend and we had a blast, drinking wine and eating cheese, while cooking. I made these awesome biscuits that rose as tall as they were big around in diameter -- no small feat, considering the cabin was at over 9,400 ft -- high-altitude baking at its finest! They were cheddar and chive biscuits and they were divine.

Here's the recipe (in exchange for forgiveness):

Cheddar Chive Biscuits
(makes about 24)
2 c. all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp shortening
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c. coarsely grated sharp English cheddar
1/2 c. finely chopped chives
1 c. cold milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well. With fingertips, rub the shortening and butter into the flour mixture until it's crumbly. Mix in the cheddar and chives. Gradually stir in the milk. The mixture will become a sticky ball. Turn the ball out onto a well-floured surface. Flatten out the dough and fold the dough it over onto itself a couple of times, using just enough flour so it doesn't stick. Press the dough out to a flat sheet about 3/4" thick. Cut the biscuits out with a 1-1/2" or 2" cutter (I used a champagne flute because that's all we had at the cabin -- that's how J rolls) and place the biscuits onto a cookie sheet with 1/2" between them -- just enough space so they don't touch. Reform remaining dough into another 3/4" thick sheet, working the dough as little as possible (so the biscuits from the second sheet will rise as well as the first). Bake till the biscuits are tall and just barely golden on top, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cooking is my therapy

I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't bother me that I've been an infrequent blogger lately. It's partly the fact that I am a doer by nature, and not-doing makes me uneasy. It's also partly the fact that I've been doing a lot of other things instead that are less fun, namely day-job, day-job, and day-job. And then there's the fact that my blogging activity is directly correlated with the amount of cooking I'm doing, which means I haven't done much. I won't bore you with the details, but it's taken a toll on my sanity. I just haven't been feeling like myself -- I've been so cantankerous that I recently hissed "Boo!" to my secretary and he screamed like a girl. I threw back my head and cackled wickedly.

psy-cho-sis (si-ko-sis): 
A severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, 
characterized by derangement of personality and 
loss of contact with reality and 
causing deterioration of normal social functioning.

So, with my sanity hanging by a thread, I invited a friend over, rolled up my sleeves, and went back to the therapy that cured my chef's block: Indian food. Old habits die hard -- no photography. But I had start from my roots. Just getting my hands, tools, and appliances dirty were a good start. The end result was a tasty haleem (lamb and lentil stew -- I used a recipe off Saveur that turned out to be quite bland and I had to go to heroic efforts to rescue it), saag paneer (there's something extremely therapeutic about curdling milk and turning it into cheese), and a pseudo-tandoori chicken (not bad considering I didn't have a tandoor oven). I started to feel a little better.

Three days later, I got a bigger dose of therapy. Some friends, we'll call them the RBergs, brought over Susur Lee's cookbook, Susur: A Culinary Life. The book comes in two volumes that are bound together in a unique double-binding. The first volume talks all about techniques (or something... I never really looked at it) and contains some "basic" mini-recipes that Susur uses as part of whole recipes contained in the second volume. The recipes in the second volume were accompanied by photographs of fantastical food, assembled so that looked akin to sci-fi-Chinese-food-meets-molecular-gastronomy, even where the cooking methods employed were mostly traditional. RBerg and I laughed at how inaccessible the recipes were. Then, we picked the three recipes that contained the least obscure-sounding ingredients, and set off on a quest to find them.

We returned to the Speakeasy Kitchen feeling pretty triumphant. We hit 4 different stores for the ingredients, substituting only the licorice powder with ground star anise because we just didn't feel like going to the apothecary across town. With the cookbook open before us, it seemed that we may have bitten off more than we could chew by attempting three recipes.
I mean, it was just sheer, mad chaos in here.  Little bowls of partially mixed ingredients, 18 piles of perfectly julienned vegetables, and hot, scalding lobster juice splashed all over the place.
Lobster with junk in her eye. I harvested her roe for garnish in a later dish.
But before too long, my instincts kicked in, and before I knew it, we were straying from Susur's instructions.
Eighteen varieties of vegetables julienned to perfection, all in one bowl. We had to drive through a blizzard all over God's winter wonderland to get them.
For instance, Susur doesn't know squat about how to make spinach pasta. Or mayonnaise.
I'm so good at making pasta that I've made pasta my bitch.
And he certainly doesn't care about the distinction between paprikas. Or chorizos. And he uses ridiculous things as "garnish," like lobster.
Some kind of lobster, clam, and chorizo chowder with some lump of something under an oven-dried tomato that took 2 hrs in my convection oven (not 50 minutes in a conventional oven, as described in Susur's instructions) to dry.
There was a glaring and unforgivable absence of salt, stingy use of some flavor-imparting ingredients (like fermented black beans), and failure to appreciate how other ingredients could be used more efficiently (like saffron). Yeah, that's right, Susie. I'm calling you out.
Salad with, you guessed it, 18 different vegetables and quail eggs on spinach noodles, dressed with a spicy black bean dressing. Refreshing, yummy, and not bland, thanks to our discerning adjustments to the recipe.

But these errors and omissions did not go unnoticed or uncorrected. I reached down deep and I made it all better. It was like Susur's ludicrous recipes were a culinary case study into insanity that was reflective of my my non-culinary-driven insanity. It was an opportunity to sort out my head, heart, and soul.
Pretty much everything used in this recipe was a "garnish." Lobster salad, garnished with saffron  mayonnaise, fried lotus root, radish sprouts, chorizo, and a lobster claw.

It's a good thing I got one big cooking project out of my system because Mr. Rose has embarked on a massive kitchen renovation project... On the one hand, these are some much-needed improvements. On the other hand, it means the doctor is out. If I show up at your doorstep wielding a spatula and a crazed look in my eyes, don't panic. Just step aside, show me to your kitchen, and let me saute something. I'll be back to normal in no time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lasagna = Love

Nothing says love like the long process of making a lasagna. The chopping of vegetables, grinding of meats, mixing of herbs, long stewing of sauce, rolling of dough, boiling sheets of pasta, ginger handling of hot boiled sheets of pasta that you pray won't stick, swift and deft arrangement of cheeses to get a little bit of every variety in every bite. Oh yes. To make lasagna is to proclaim your love. Not that there aren't other ways to express love, but lasagna is the exclamation point to "I love you!"

Most nights, I give Mr. Rose the option of having whatever he wants for dinner. As we head home from work on weeknights, or when I wake up on weekends, knowing that I have a few hours for a bigger production, I always ask what he wants. In reality, he doesn't actually get anything he wants, because sometimes the ingredients aren't readily available; sometimes I'm just not in the mood to make it. But I always ask, for conversation sake and to make him at least *feel* like he gets to make that decision.

Several nights in the last few weeks, Mr. Rose requested lasagna. Of the meaty variety. Night after night, I declined, gently nudging him to something less time-consuming or less-fattening. But one can only deny a loved one of lasagna for so long before said loved one has wandered over to the Olive Garden at lunch for a big heap of carb-laden mediocrity.

So I rolled up my sleeves one Wednesday night and got to work. None of it, with the exception of the part where I parboiled pasta, was all that difficult.

Sauce, so long as one has plenty of good ingredients, is forgiving. Because you're going to be stewing it for a couple of hours, you can just keep adjusting the flavor as necessary. I'd been reserving two tins of tomatoes, imported from Italy, for this sort of occasion. Add some chopped onions, carrots, celery, herbs, ground pork, and beef and you've got yourself a party.

Pasta dough has become quite easy, though I still find it to be a bit of a challenge to make perfectly rectangular sheets for the lasagna pan. With linguine, no one has to know that it's coming in random lengths, and probably no one notices that the edge pieces aren't quite rectilinear. But rolling pasta has become therapeutic for me, so it was actually quite nice to work the dough so meticulously. It's amazing that pasta dough, when raw, is so easy to handle, but then becomes so finicky when boiled. You have to handle it gingerly or it tears, but you have to move quickly because it's both (a) burning your hands, and (b) threatening to permanently stick to itself or its neighbors.

Last, but certainly not least, was the cheese. I used three varieties: romano, mozzarella, and ricotta. I managed to spread an even and tidy layer between each layer of pasta and sauce, and reserve some for the top.  The lasagna baked with beautifully browned cheesiness.  No, I didn't make any of those cheeses from scratch -- it was, after all, a weeknight. I think I got just enough love in there for a Wednesday.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Rose.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience.  The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "incomplete, impermanent, and imperfect."  It's kind of an on-going theme here.

Incomplete: I'd had a few posts that never quite got done, including a review of the Savory Spice Shop's holiday party at Colt & Gray (I'll get to it eventually, but here's a plot spoiler: Colt & Gray rocks). 

Impermanent: I get fleeting moments of inspiration (and energy) to kick off a Speakeasy Kitchen in Denver.  

Imperfect: I occasionally get pretty far off perfection, which causes me to steer in a different direction.

Take, for example, the macaroon.  I found a recipe with detailed instructions for what sounded like a heavenly little treat.  French macaroons with raspberry-rose buttercream frosting.  I've often heard that macaroons seem harder than they actually are.  I'm here to say that's not really true. 

I had tidy, but imprecise, little rows of macaroon batter, piped out of a gallon freezer ziplock baggie because I don't own a pastry bag.  I was proud of my ingenuity.  The batter was slightly drippy as the recipe had warned it would be.  It flowed.

And it flowed.

Except when it burnt.  (Imperfect.)

This was my second attempt at macaroons and it came out worse than the first.  I felt as hollow inside as this crisp-skinned one.  "They'll be a great crunchy treat that I can dip in my coffee tomorrow," said Mr. Rose in his most consoling tone.  But that wasn't going to work for dessert for a bunch of lawyers and judges whom I'd be feeding tomorrow night.  (Incomplete.)

"You make good rice pudding," offered Mr. Rose.

And so I went back to the pantry to cobble something altogether different.  (Impermanent!)  It would be a dessert I couldn't mess up at this late hour.  I made a lavender-lemon rice pudding.

I sewed a little pouch full of lavender and dropped it into the pot.

I felt a lot more comfortable improvising in this way than I was with full instructions for the macaroons. 

It was more Englishy than the Frenchy dessert I'd planned, but it's a dessert that will compliment the rest of the menu and that the judges will hopefully enjoy anyway.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, and when the wabi goes too sabi, it's time to switch gears. 

It's a beautiful thing.