Just returning from a little sunshine respite. Lenore has family in sunny Brea CA where we spent a few nights at their very comfortable CA home. It was nice for Lenore to catch up with her aunt and uncle while I played in the kitchen with her cousin, Mary, quite an accomplished cook. Never done it commercially but even if I had never enjoyed her cooking, her ability to cook certainly shows in her kitchen.
She has everything any cook could want and a place for everything. She has one of the newest drip coffee makers, one cup at a time, and uses her tiniest Tupperware to set up her own coffee “pods.” There are so many drawers that I finally asked how they found this home with the biggest kitchen on the block, and she explained that David, her husband, is very handy and just kept expanding the kitchen. So right away the experience of cooking with her was going to be great.
I think Mary was a little surprised that I wanted to make her famous shortbread that she mails to us every Christmas, ours just one of 125 that she sends out. Her shortbread molds are collector’s items as well, and we picked out a couple since one batch makes two. I was amazed that she actually broke every so-called rule for baking by making this tender delight in a giant Cuisinart–didn’t even know they make them so large! She started with a pound of frozen salted butter (I get that) and proceeded to blend until I could feel the heat off the blade. Asking if she was going to chill the dough, she said no, and in fact she heated the molds before filling with dough. She let me play with the second half of the batch. To it, I added a few spices that I found in her cupboard (anything you could imagine was there). I made a little curry mix and yes, added some coriander to it. Both went into the oven and out in about 30 minutes. I guess that even with her giant Cuisinart and several molds, she can only bake 4 at a time in her double ovens, so it must take close to 36 hours to make all 125. The addition of curry was interesting and Lenore liked it, but I was not satisfied, so plan to improve it a bit next time. Mary, of course, is sharing her recipe and I intend to post it once I do it again in my kitchen. No doubt about it, Mary makes the best shortbread I ever tasted.
Mid week our cousins drove us to Palm Springs, a short 90 minute drive, to meet up with friends from Seattle who were there for a whole month! Mutual friends from Maryland were already there. In fact, almost the entire group from our French Laundry experience were together again. Being foodies, we did as much eating as talking. First day we went to the local Farmers Market–it was all organic foods, no crafts, and they had cut flowers!
Anyway, it was tough to shop the market when we only had two days for cooking! The couple we were visiting had a full fridge and tangerine, orange & lime trees outside their door. We had to use restraint. Lenore found a new fruit, to me anyway, called ‘Yellow Sapote’ from Mexico, also known as Canistell or “egg-fruit.” The farm stand attendant didn’t speak allot of English, so we didn’t really know what we were buying. She cut one up for tastes. It was sweet like very ripe persimmons but had the texture of a ripe avocado, to us anyway. Researching it on the internet, I found the texture described as a hard boiled egg since it doesn’t produce much juice. In any case, I included it in the breakfast watermelon salad I made the next morning. It was pretty good and I will be looking for that fruit again if I ever get to Florida where they are grown commercially. For now I am happy that it happened to be grown by a little farm in southeastern California and brought to market that day.
If I were to make the salad again, here is a recipe subbing avocado for the Sapote.
1 small seedless Watermelon (or Crenshaw melon, would be good too)
2 avocado, 1/2 dice or 2 “sapote” if you can get it
6 fresh figs, quartered
2 fresh sweet persimmons, core and cut 1/2″ dice
juice of 1 large lime
1 bunch Basil, rough chop
1 serrano pepper, seed, devein, mince
1/4 cup EVOO, just to coat fruit
To Taste Sea salt Pepper Coriander (SPC)
Method: Prepare fruit; gently toss with lime juice and EVOO. Add pepper, basil and toss and taste. Season to taste with SPC.We served this with Marty’s eggs with an Armenian sliced cured meat.This recipe is worth knowing but first I need to find a local source for the cured meat. Marty gets it shipped from the East coast from an Armenian butcher. Stay tuned, because Marty and I may just be making it on the west coast.
It is official. I admit I do usually enjoy the classes Lenore dreams up! This one featuring appetizers was scheduled for noon on a Saturday. I really pushed back at first. After all I am preparing for dinner every Saturday night and when you add 10 plus recipes for a lunch class, my little kitchen and crew are really cranking. But when I actually do the class I really enjoy myself.
I love what I do. The variety is endless and it truly gives the spice to a sometimes too familiar routine. The impetus for the class was “WOW weekend.” That is, Women Only Weekend. Dreamed up by one of the hotels in town, The Ocean Lodge, for the purpose of encouraging women to come to town, start their holiday shopping early, while they “pamper” themselves with spa treatments, and a variety of classes such as flower arranging, quilt making, and of course, a slow-food lunch around my stove. Women around my stove, what is not to like about that! And I did.
Then off to the Ocean lodge after dessert at our Dinner Show because there was one more WOW assignment for me. All I had to do is show up with my “Devilish Hot Chocolate” and whipped cream and serve at hotel’s pajama party. Forty servings I was told and please wear pajamas! So just another one of those things my wife insists that I do. 40 women at a pajama party –okay if I must.
HOT CHOCOLATE LACED WITH DARK RUM
8 oz heavy cream
10 oz whole milk
2 oz butter
2 oz sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
8 oz good bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 oz sweetened whipped cream
2 tsp dark rum
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Method: place all ingredients except chocolate into heavy bottom sauce pan; bring to simmer. Add chocolate until completely melted and absorbed. Ladle into cups; garnish as desired. Suggested size serving: 4 oz as this is very rich
To Garnish: (pick one or a couple)
1.Float whipped cream on top with a hint of cayenne
2.Add splash of dark rum or Kaluha
Sprinkle of nutmeg, cocoa powder, or cinnamon.
For me, every day is the first day of a menu! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the stress relief of knowing a menu so well I can sail through the prep without much thought. And of course, I can make two or three days worth of prep together, but unless I start fresh everyday, it is harder for me to maintain my edge. You see you never know who you may be serving!
What we do know is that our business depends on repeat customers. So every day has to be fresh or we potentially loose first time customers who dine with us. Lenore and I help each other to get in the game on days that we aren’t. We leave at least 30 minutes before a class just to clear our heads and get excited about the recipes we are doing. And even when it is hard to do, when the first guests arrive, new or not, we almost instantly get into the game as if we were some how plugged into110 current!
The potential for bad press can spread pretty far with one underwhelmed person. Cultivating good buzz one customer at a time is what we strive to do, and when the customer is an unidentified food writer dining with us, it can pay off in a big way. Arriving to work after two days away this past week, our voice mail was extra full! It seems an article about us was in the Sunday Nov 1,2009 Oregonian Travel section. We had no idea! Many people called wanting to learn more and even to sign up.
So when I tell my interns that “you are only as good as your last banquet or meal,” I mean, do not become too complacent or comfortable. Keeping an edge is the best way to demand the most from yourself. Don’t rest on your laurels. Demand more from yourself.
After all the years I have been cooking, I am still working on my self esteem. When customers come back over and over again, it is the best affirmation I can get. Knowing they trust us, often coming even when they don’t know what we’re serving, makes me more determined than ever to work on that “edge.”
It was a long day yesterday! We started actually a few weeks ago to prepare for yesterday. Didn’t matter, we were still pushing to get everything done before the guests arrived. We did 20 bites for 45 guests at our “A Nightmare Before Christmas” Halloween Party. Our intent besides saying thanks to our loyal customers (ENCORE CLUB) was to showcase some interesting appetizers for holiday party giving. When we got to appetizer #12, couples were “sharing” bites. By #13 they flatly refused to take any more. So we omitted two apps (the scallops and the white bean crepes) and went on to desserts. Even eliminated one of those too, the big caramel apple slices. But all in all it was rewarding because I actually did this marathon behind my stove without missing a beat, in full costume! The crew was phenomenal and worked their “mmm’s” off. We could have had an after party with all the leftovers from the leftovers after the crew refreshed on them, but we were just too tired. Guests were great and seemed to enjoy themselves–staying to the feeding frenzy end! Guest voted and the winning appetizers of the evening were the “Wild Mushroom Strudel with Crab salad” and “Baked Muffalatta.” And of course, the hot chocolate with chipotle cream was a big hit. All the recipes are to be posted ASAP! (Or, as soon as Lenore gets to it) 🙂 Ciao, Bob