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Archive for the ‘party’ Category

So much ice cream

My CSA has its annual grill night on Tuesday. I volunteered to make the ice cream. That’s right, ice cream for 100. I filled every single plastic container we had in the apartment.

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I made eight flavors of ice cream and three of sorbet. Most of my recipes were taken from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. I only have one 2-quart ice cream maker, but luckily I bought an extra freezer bowl. This meant that I could make four 2-quart batches a day, two in the morning, then the bowls would go back into the freezer, and two at night. In the end, I made 24 quarts of ice cream and sorbet in five days.

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I spent the grill night scooping ice cream for all the members, young and old, into cones and cups. It was a lot of fun, and I got a lot of amazing feedback.

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Each person was allowed up to three scoops. I made this sign so people could easily see the flavors. (By the time Dave took this photo some had already run out, hence the cross offs.)

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This person came back for a second round. After starting with the classic trio of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, he came back for something a bit more adventurous: (from left) plum, apricot, basil.

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Dave went with (from left) peach, chocolate sorbet, strawberry. Mint chocolate chip, which is my favorite ice cream flavor and came out really well, went the fastest. Basil was also quite popular. Some people said I should open a stand, or even try to sell it at the CSA. We’ll see.

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Father’s Day feast

My father loves Indian food. So, I decided to make an Indian feast for Father’s Day, and we invited both sets of parents over. A few days before the big meal, I made a list and headed straight for Kalustyan’s. Located in the “Curry Hill” neighborhood, Kalustyan’s stocks every spice, bean, flour, and condiment you could ever want from anywhere in the world, but with a heavy focus on Indian cuisine. The spice corner (see photo, below right), which is just a small portion of the two-story market, was enough to keep me occupied for at least 15-20 minutes.

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I started cooking for the meal the Saturday before Father’s Day. I made dessert first, a pineapple mint sorbet. 

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I cut up the pineapple and mint, blended them with a simple syrup, then chilled the mixture and spun it in my ice cream maker. I used this recipe from The New York Times, but didn’t have a vanilla bean in the house so I used a teaspoon of extract instead. I also added some fresh mint (finely chopped) right before I spun it.

As for the main affair, I made five dishes and some fresh grilled chapatis. 

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Clockwise from top left: chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, saffron rice with cardamom (I used brown basmati rice so the saffron color didn’t really come out), chickpeas, tandoori prawns. All of my recipes but the saag paneer came from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Most of the recipes started with some variation of the following: toasting spices and/or sweating down a combination of onion, garlic, and ginger.

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As for the prawn dish, the recipe called for “colossal” shrimp, so I used some tiger shrimp which were the biggest variety I could find. While there is no way to do real tandoori at home, as it requires an ultra hot tandoori oven, the recipe aims to approximate the taste with a thick marinade and on-stove grilling. I used my grill pan and was pretty happy with the results.

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The last element of the dinner was the chapatis. I bought real chapati flour at Kalustyan’s. All that remained was to mix the dough, roll out the flat breads, heat them until they bubbled a bit (I used my two-burner griddle), and then place them on an open flame (I used one of my gas burners) for a second until they puffed up.

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The dinner went well, everyone seemed happy. The pineapple sorbet was the perfect light ending to what was a fairly heavy meal. And, it went brilliantly with our Brazilian dessert plates.

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The James Beard Awards are the Academy Awards of the culinary field. It’s one night where you can see the likes of Mario Batali rubbing shoulders with Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert, all dressed in black tie. Sadly, I didn’t see any of them as I spent most of the awards tying pickled ramps in knots and resting them atop pieces of bone marrow. Mmmmm. 

Kyle and I arrived at Lincoln Center, as directed, at 2:30 pm and were given our credentials. 

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This year, the awards celebrated women in food, and all of the chefs who were invited to cook were female. And, everything was pink. Don’t get me wrong, I love the color pink. But, I do think that women in the culinary field often struggle to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and that turning Avery Fisher Hall into something reminiscent of a middle school girl’s bedroom was maybe not the wisest decorative choice. 

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I was assigned to Chef Debbie Gold, and spent the better part of my first few hours at the awards awaiting her arrival. It turned out that she had been using a kitchen offsite to toast the croutons for her dish (there is no kitchen at Avery Fisher) and so she didn’t wind up arriving until 4:30. While I was waiting, Kyle and I snuck a peek into the theater, which was a good thing as it was the only glimpse that I would wind up getting the whole night (unlike Kyle who got to watch some of the awards).

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After Chef Gold arrived, I helped assemble her dish (along with another volunteer and another chef who is a friend of Chef Gold’s) and served guests. The awards themselves ran from about 6:30 to 10, but starting at around 9 guests began to circulate and sample the many offerings. The dish I worked on was comprised of salt-cured bone marrow on a mustard crouton topped with a pickled ramp and parsley.

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Things began to wind down at around 10, which is when Kyle, already a few drinks happy, came and rescued me. By then, the chef and her friend had long wandered away and I was manning the table with the other volunteer. We were pretty well-stocked at that point so I took off with Kyle and managed to sample the food and spy some of the chefs. We saw Dan Barber, Jacques Pepin, Rick Bayless, Aaron Sanchez, Maria Hines (of Tilth who won Best Chef: Northwest), and Michelle Bernstein, and I spoke with Jeff from the most recent season of Top Chef. I even got to see my boss, Ryan Tate (chef de cuisine at Savoy), looking quite dapper in a tux.

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Sadly, I did not see the two people I most wanted to see: Tom Colicchio (who supposedly stood right in front of the table where Kyle was working for about 10 minutes!) and Michael Pollan, who won an award but was a no-show.

The best dishes I sampled were definitely the desserts. My top three, in order:
1. Warm coconut-cardamom rice pudding with rhubarb and kumquats – Kate Zuckerman (pastry chef of Chanterelle in NYC) 
2. Beet brownies with Veldhuizen Bosque blue cheese, Miss Van’s honeycomb, and Swedish-style Texas pecans – Monica Pope (Chef of t’afia in Houston, Texas)
3. Toasted almond and rose bonet with rhubarb and candied rose petals – Danica Pollard (pastry chef of Lidia’s in Kansas City, Missouri)

We left the awards with our pockets full of chocolate (the Green & Black’s table was closing down and we walked by at just the right time) and a bag full of tequila (Kyle made friends with one of the booze promoters). It wasn’t the best night, but it sure beat staying home and watching the Yankees lose to the Red Sox.

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The fifth taste

Yesterday, Clare and I served as volunteer assistants for Chef Mamie, one of the teachers of public classes at the Natural Gourmet. We were cooking for an event hosted by the NYWCA (New York Women’s Culinary Alliance) highlighting umami*. The “fifth taste” (after the basic four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), umami is strongly present in many foods including tuna, chicken, seaweed, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.

Last night’s event, held at the Institute for Culinary Education, featured a guest speaker from the Umami Information Center, who gave a short lecture on the history of the taste, which was followed by a buffet dinner full of umami-rich foods. The discovery of umami, in 1908, is credited to a Japanese chemist (Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University), thus people often associate the taste with Japanese foods. While it is true that many Japanese dishes are high in umami-rich ingredients, people of all nationalities have been tasting umami for centuries, it just wasn’t labeled as such. In fact, we learned during the lecture that breast milk is high in umami. 

The buffet we cooked included Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian dishes, each of which were paired with a wine or sake (all donated by Gotham Wine). I made one Thai dish: stir fried straw mushrooms and prawns with shrimp paste; and one Japanese: miso soup.

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Clare made two Vietnamese dishes: fresh spring rolls (served with a peanut sauce) and grilled pork chops.

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Clare also helped Chef Mamie with the pizzas, which were delicious.

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Chef Mamie made two dishes as well, they were my favorites: Japanese vegetable sushi rice and green tea cookies.

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It was a fun night, and I learned some new recipes, which is always good. 

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My dinner plate from last night.

 

* I linked to the Wikipedia entry on umami for those who want to read more on its definition, but wanted to note that I found a glaring error on the page (which I corrected) so beware of false information.

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peace-gamesOur flight from Seattle landed yesterday morning at 1:00 am in Newark, we were home by 2:00. I managed to squeeze in five hours of sleep before I was off to Fairway with my granny cart to stock up on food. I then cooked all day (with lots of help from Jenn who got roped into being my kitchen assistant) for a fund raiser for Peace Games, an organization that is making a real difference in the lives of city kids in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Peace Game’s NYC headquarters is housed in the office of kasina, the consulting firm where I once worked, who donate the space.

While working for kasina, I had the pleasure of volunteering with some middle schoolers in the Bronx through Peace Games. Helping with their rehearsals of Othello and taking a group of kids to see Amateur Night at the Apollo are among my favorite memories of my time at kasina. I realize that everyone is tightening their purse strings these days, but if you are looking for an amazing organization that is always seeking support (not just in the form of a check), I highly recommend checking out Peace Games

In addition to some savory bites, I made this cake for the party.

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Photo by Lee Kowarski

It was my first foray into the use of fondant. I’m a long way from Ace of Cakes, but I had fun. A super special thank you goes out to Jenn who cut out the X-shaped bodies for me, I couldn’t have done it without her.

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Last night’s wedding festivities ended with a candlelit dinner at Duck Soup, considered by many to be the best restaurant on San Juan Island. Cam raves about the place, so I arrived hungry and excited, still a bit buzzed from the afternoon champagne. Set off of a small pond in a rustic log cabin, the inside of Duck Soup is cozy and unpretentious. The walls are decorated with simple paintings of various types of fish and produce. Our table was right by the roaring fire. We sat down to three different bottles of wines (one white, two red) and crusty baguette slices that we slathered with a delicious house made sardine spread. 

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The meal kicked off with my favorite course, a Dungeness crab stack with wontons, avocado, and wasabi aioli (there was five spice tofu instead of crab for the vegetarians). The crispiness of the fried wontons provided a pleasant contrast to the tender crab and avocado. Next came a cream of mushroom soup with bacon croutons (which I scooped out and gave to Dave). The soup, which also tasted of tomato, was flavorful and woody and just the right size.

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The third and final appetizer was an organic baby green salad with tahini green goddess dressing and optional blue cheese. I skipped the cheese, as the tahini dressing was so flavorful that I didn’t want anything to detract from it. By the time our main courses arrived the toasts had begun and I was beginning to feel full. I had chosen the halibut muinère with lemon basil beurre blanc, creamy polenta, and fresh asparagus.

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There was also a filet mignon (Dave’s choice), and an Israeli cous cous risotto. I’m not a huge fan of creamy sauces, but the beurre blanc was light enough that it didn’t over-power the halibut, one of my favorite fish, which is now in season.

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The meal ended with a heart-shaped vanilla bean crème brulée, meant to be shared, how apropo.  Also on the table were truffles, my other favorite part of the meal, made by the bride herself.

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Arriving in the San Juan Islands, for me, is like reuniting with a happier, truer version of myself. As soon as I drive off the ferry onto one of the islands (usually Orcas Island, my favorite place on earth, but this weekend we are on San Juan Island where my friend Cameni grew up) there is an immediate sense of release, everything negative and unnecessary melts away.

Yesterday was a perfect island day. It started out with a yoga class. Unlike the over-crowded and intense atmosphere of my NYC studio, the one I went to yesterday was as serene and calming as the view of the Cascade mountains in the distance, and there were only five of us in the class. After yoga, Dave picked me up and took me to the farmers’ market.dsc02082 
San Juan Island is largely covered with farmland and the produce that you find at the market is unlike any that I have seen in NYC farmers’ markets. Beautiful heirloom varieties of whatever is in season.

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That’s purple broccoli! One stand was selling seedlings for various greens, another several kinds of meat. It all made me wish that I was staying somewhere with a kitchen.

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We partook of my main weakness: baked goods. The cinnamon buns at one stall looked to die for, but I resisted and went with the whole grain bakery stand instead.

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pear tart, lemon ginger muffin, ham and cheese croissant

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We hiked off our baked treats with a quick jaunt up Mount Young for some scenic views of the surrounding islands.  Then it was time for the main event. Cameni and Alex were married lakeside, in a movie-worthy ceremony that started and ended with Cam being rowed across the lake (there by her father, back by her new husband).

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After the ceremony, there was a tea reception in the main lodge of the Lakedale Resort where we were all staying. Every little detail of the tea was ever-so-charming, and ever-so-Cam. She had made creative labels for all the offerings, most of which were brought by friends and family.

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Pixie Snacks

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Dewdrop/Moonbeam Juice

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Wood Gnome Bread

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Flower Petal Tea / Dragon Wing Tea

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Toad Stools

The crowd favorite was definitely Alex’s mom’s pumpkin chocolate chip bread.

We ended the reception with champagne and wedding cake — a delicious, rustic carrot cake made by the maid of honor’s mother.

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