You betta’ work.

IMAG0515Why is it that every time you start a new job, you completely forget everything you once knew?

Yesterday I asked someone how to slice bread.

 

I have a friend starting a new job in a new city and yesterday she confessed that she was scared. Sure, it’s a new project, but the fundamental aspects of it are something she’s been doing for 10 years. It’s like every time we begin a new endeavor it’s the first day of school all over again–except it’s always a new school where you don’t have any friends and no one cares about you until the first time you embarrass yourself. And you’re probably wearing the wrong thing.

Of course, then you get to work and start to do the work and you meet the people and realize the people are just people and that just because they’ve been with the company longer doesn’t mean they know how to slice bread better than you do.

Perhaps you’ve gathered that I, too, have begun anew. I left the media job that I’d been engaged in for the past 2 years and am now on the line at a neighborhood spot in Brooklyn, NY. It’s taking me a second to get back into the swing of restaurant mentality, but I’m enjoying the experience. And the food is great.

So far, I’m exhausted all the time–which doesn’t really make any sense since the schedule is actually very reasonable–and K & I are on opposite schedules, which is kind of a bummer; but, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right!? Plus, I can still watch Kelly & Michael in the morning in hopes that they call me to win a trip via the daily trivia question.

IMAG0521_1The real work is in the prep: skinning & dividing a whole side of salmon, cleaning 16 portions of hanger steak several times a week. Cleaning proteins is only nerve-wracking because you’re aiming for a specific weight per portion, and I still don’t trust my judgement. That unsuredness stems from the time when my depth perception came into question as a youth, having mowed my parents lawn along with 3 feet of our neighbor’s perimeter–he was always quite persnickety about his curb appeal. Yesterday, I was dicing tomatillos for a chunky salsa verde and the pile was never-ending. In fact, I didn’t finish in the time allotted–2 quarts of dice in, I still hadn’t even made it beyond the rim of the pan. No matter, it’s for salsas of the future (like 2 days from now) and it lets me know exactly what I need to do when I arrive today–unless some other prep for tonight’s service has surfaced.

For now, I’m gonna go back to practicing my bread slicing technique. After all, a slice of bread & a curl of butter is the first impression many people will now have of me, so I’d better make them perfect. (And by perfect, I mean fine–it’s just a slice of bread, y’all.)

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opening my freezer is now a special occasion.

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream FilterIf I start thinking about a recipe, I’ll never make it.

The problem is, when I make dinner, I generally throw things together, without much preconceived thought.

 So when I start to think of something I’d like to make it’s generally a special occasion recipe & I rarely plan special occasions. Or, by the time a special occasion comes around, I’ve thought of a different recipe. It’s really a pity, because now only the ether knows if those forgotten recipes were any good.

I didn’t let that happen to the latest though. This recipe deserved to be made. Deserved to be loved and devoured and wistfully remembered. And since it’s mid-summer, there’s always a barbecue around the corner.

Inspired by this recipe, but wanting something with a cleaner flavor profile, I began to wonder how I would make cinnamon toast ice cream, had I thought of it myself. I wanted bold cinnamon flavor, followed by the caramel undertones of toasted white bread. An ice cream packed with flavors that would transport anyone’s mind to that of a child clinging on to a counter, wide-eyed, anticipating the milliseconds ticking by until that toaster dings!

But it wasn’t enough to just have a creamy, cinnamony, toasty flavor profile. A crunch was required. A crunch that could be heard across a room. Now, ever since learning to make a proper crouton in culinary school, I have wondered why croutons have not made a permanent leap to the sundae bar. It’s the perfect ice cream topper for lovers of salty-sweet, both defiantly crunchy and undeniably buttery. But, because this was cinnamon toast ice cream, why not drive the point home with cinnamon toast croutons? And, by damn, what a good point it was.

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream (makes 1 Gallon, recipe can easily be divided for a quart machine)

3 slices white bread, toasted to med-dark gold
6 cups heavy cream
6 cups whole milk
4 3-inch cinnamon sticks
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 2/3 cups granulated natural sugar
16 egg yolks
1 T vanilla extract

IMG_20130713_222827

1. Bring 1/2 of cream and 1/2 of milk, salt, cinnamon sticks and toasted bread just to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and let steep for 30min-1hr.

2. Strain toast, making sure to gently press to extract as much liquid as possible from the bread. Return milk & cream to sauce pan, along with cinnamon sticks (but not the bread). And bring back to a simmer.

3. Meanwhile, whisk yolks and sugar together until pale yellow. Once milk has come back to a simmer, slowly pour into the yolks while continuing to whisk. Once incorporated, return the whole mix to the saucepan and continually stir over medium heat until the mixture has thickened slightly and it coats the back of a spoon.

4. Pour into a bowl and immediately whisk in remaining milk & cream to help cool it off. Add vanilla. Place into ice bath or let cool for 1 hour (or until room temperature) on counter. Cover tightly & refrigerate (with cinnamon sticks) 24 hours.

5. Strain & mix with ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s directions.

Cinnamon Toast Croutons

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6 slices white bread
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons granular natural sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1. Remove crust and then slice bread into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Mix together sugar & cinnamon.

3. Place butter in a 12″ saute pan. (For this method, I find it’s best to turn two eyes on the same side of my home stovetop to high.) When the butter is almost, but not quite completely melted, add the bread cubes. Shake the pan back and forth over the two eyes (or one if your stove gets hot enough), stopping occasionally to toss with a silicone spatula. You want to keep the cubes constantly moving so that they are uniformly browned on all sides.

4. Once they begin to toast, you should be able to begin to hear them getting crisper as you saute. Once they start to sound ‘hollow’, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over them & continue to saute. The sugar will start to melt and stick, but keep moving and the bread will soak it all up. When the cinnamon sugar is absorbed, spill croutons onto a plate that’s been lined with a paper towel and sprinkle salt over the top & shake gently to evenly disperse. Allow to cool.

To serve: Layer scoops of cinnamon toast ice cream with dashes of croutons. Or just sprinkle them over the top. Or add them to your sundae bar. I took them both to a 4th of July party where there was an unbeatable peach cobbler (don’t worry mom, he’s from Atlanta & makes the same cobbler we do–which for the rest of you, is the only way to make cobbler). We scooped the ice cream atop the cobbler and threw the croutons on top of that: Time. Stopped.

Happy reminiscing!

Instinctual Evidence

At this point I really should just follow my instincts.

I read a recipe, think, “Well, that’s not going to work;” but, intrigued, try it anyway. And then it doesn’t work.

Last night it was a romanesco-calabaza gratin. Baked “uncovered” for 30 minutes, then topped with cheesy-nutty breadcrumbs and baked for another 30, I was sure the top layer of veg would never soften adequately without covering for the first half of baking to allow a bit of steaming. End result, it was edible–almost delicious–but it could have been softer.

My instincts paid off with the main course for my menu project though. Although I didn’t love the way this dish photographed, the flavor was outstanding. Read the back story here.

Roasted Pork Loin, stuffed with Beer & Vinegar Braised Cabbage
Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pork
3-4 lb. Pork Loin
2 T coarse mustard
S+P
20 g Neutral oil

For the Cabbage Stuffing
200g Vidalia onion, emincer
1 t. caraway seeds
½ t celery seeds
1 small head green cabbage, sliced in ½” strips
1 small head red cabbage, sliced in ½“ strips
100g carrots, julienne
4 oz cider vinegar
12 oz Unibroue Ephemere Ale
Pinch of sugar
20g butter, Salt & pepper

For the Sauce
Pork trimmings (including bacon rind removed from salad lardon)
100 g onions, mirepoix
2 garlic cloves, smashed
400 g tomatoes, quartered
30 g bourbon or rye
1000 g pork stock
5 g Chervil, hacher
5 g Parsley, hacher

For the Gastrique
85 g brown sugar
85 g cider vinegar

For the Pork Stock
6 lbs. pork bones
450 g onions
450 g carrots
3 celery stalks
50 g tomato paste
225 g tomato scraps
100 g mushroom trim
80 g leek greens
½ head garlic
Bouquet garni

For the Stock

  1. Roast the bones in an oven set to 375º until golden, stirring occasionally and making sure sucs don’t brown too quickly.
  2. Add onions and carrots and continue to roast until starting to caramelize.
  3. In a large pot, sauté leek and mushrooms until caramelized, add tomato paste and cook for several minutes. Add tomato scrap & let the juices reduce significantly.
  4. Add roasted veg and bones & cover with water. Add bouquet and bring to a boil. Simmer for 6 hours, adding water as necessary to keep submerged. Skim as needed. Strain and chill.

For the Stuffing & Pork

  1. Sweat onions in neutral oil until translucent and just starting to color.
  2. Add seeds and allow the flavors to bloom for a few seconds
  3. Add carrots and cabbage and sauté briefly.
  4. Add ale, vinegar & sugar and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to simmer & cook until the cabbage is tender.
  6. If necessary, pour out excess liquid & add butter, sautéing to coat cabbage.
  7. Place in a colander and allow to drain while it cools. Set aside.
  8. Butterfly the pork loin, season both sides with salt and pepper and then brush just the inside with mustard.
  9. Layer the cooked cabbage on the loin, leaving a ½” boarder and roll loin back into shape. Secure with butcher’s string.
  10. Sear all sides of the roast in a pan with neutral oil.
  11. Place in the oven preheated to 375º and roast until a thermometer inserted in the center of the roast reads 145º.
  12. Remove from the oven and let rest before slicing. Deglaze pan with stock and add back to sauce.

For the Sauce

  1. Brown pork trimmings and bacon rind.
  2. Add mirepoix and garlic and caramelize. Degrease and flambé with bourbon.
  3. Add tomatoes and allow them to release their juice and reduce.
  4. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and reinforce for at least 30 minutes. Strain.
  5. In a separate pan, melt brown sugar until it reaches a dark caramel.
  6. Add vinegar to deglaze and cook until combined.
  7. Bring reinforced stock to a boil, reduce to nappant. Add gastrique bit by bit until a balanced flavor is achieved. Add herbs.

 Heirloom Bean Salad with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

4 cups Eye of the Goat beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
15 g Worcestershire
2 bay leaves
1 onion, split in half
400 g plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane
30 g Cider Vinegar
15 g Dark brown sugar
15 g Mustard
85 g Neutral oil, plus more for tomatoes
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered appropriately4 Green onions, sliced on the bias
Salt and black pepper
5 g Chervil, hacher

  1. Rinse the beans and cover with fresh water in a russe along with bay leaves and onion.
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer until the beans are tender, about 2 ½ hours.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare dressing by slicing plum tomatoes in half, tossing with oil, salt and pepper and placing upside down on a sheet tray.
  4. Roast tomatoes in an oven set to 300ºF for about one hour. Remove from oven and allow them to come to room temperature.
  5. Place in a food processor along with garlic, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper.
  6. Strain and then slowly drizzle in oil, either whisking by hand or returned to the processor on low, to create an emulsion.
  7. When the beans are ready, drain and toss the hot beans in the dressing. Chill.
  8. Add the tomatoes, green onions and chervil, toss, adjust seasoning and chill.

 Pommes Rissolées

 4 Starchy Potatoes
Neutral Oil
Butter

  1. Cut potatoes into spheres with a melon baller.
  2. Just cover with cold water and bring to a boil.
  3. As soon as the water comes to a boil, strain and allow potatoes a few minutes to dry out.
  4. Sauté potatoes in neutral oil until golden. Degrease.
  5. Add butter and finish in an oven set to 375º.

 For Service

  1. Place bean salad in the center of a plate. Lay a few slices of pork atop, nap with the sauce and place a few rissoléed potatoes around the plate.

 Drink Pairing

 Unibroue Ephemere Apple (white ale brewed with green apple must)

Charred & Chilled

ImageI dropped the ball.

I meant to post the entirety of my menu project on subsequent days without pause. Obviously that didn’t happen. I got distracted. There was a storm–you might’ve heard of it–then there was another storm. I was one of the lucky ones. I never lost power, I never lost cable. In fact, I sat through most of the event, watching the happenings from my six-story window until K decided we should close the blinds over concerns of safety. With no trees immediately imminent out of our window, I thought it safer to leave the blinds up, thus in view of the branches hurtling at us rather than being surprised when shards of window were met with the disappointment that we would now need to replace our newly broken blinds….but I digress.

We made it through the week and then on Sunday there was bustle and talk at the farmer’s market. How had families fared? When do you think transit will resume? What did you spend your time making in the kitchen!?

You’d think that I would have spent time testing recipes. Making some dish that takes too long to even consider making on a regular day. But, I did not. I mostly made simple recipes & I didn’t take pictures of any of them. And I’m okay with that. You don’t need to be party to everything that I eat.

I will, however, say that the caramelized onion and fernet steamed mussels were amazing. As was the chicken-sausage and purple cauliflower fried rice. And the bluefish sandwiches. And the cheddar-bacon shortbread cookies, And the baked pumpkin yeast doughnuts. And the puff-pastry with mustard green pesto, blue cheese and concord grape reduction drizzle. Though not so much the homemade tootsie rolls…

One thing I didn’t make was soup. And that’s because even in this time of lost power and cold nights, I’m forced to live with windows open and fans running on high because my apartment is so unbelievably hot–first world problems, y’all. Although, I guess I could have made this soup because it’s chilled. Technically it’s charred and chilled. You can read about why it’s charred and chilled here. Otherwise, make the soup to enjoy in your sweltering apartment (although it’s also good served warm). Either way, it’s delicious.
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Charred & Chilled Green Bean Soup
Yield: 8 Servings

1 medium Vidalia onion, ciseler
2 lbs. Italian green beans, cleaned
2 quarts green vegetable stock
S+P
Neutral oil, for sautéing
Micro-greens, for garnish
Olive oil, for drizzling

For the Cornbread Croutons
1 cup White Lily Self-Rising Buttermilk Cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of sugar
½ t baking powder
Pinch of salt
¼ cup neutral oil
1 ½ cups milk
1 egg
50 g Melted Butter

For the Green Vegetable Stock
100 g onions, mirepoix
200 g celery, mirepoix
200 g white mushrooms, gills removed, halved
1 leek, mirepoix
150 g broccoli stems
1 green garlic stem
100 g carrot greens
Bouquet Garni
4 allspice berries

For the Stock

  1. Sweat each of the vegetables separately, without achieving any color. Too much color in the stock will lend the soup an unappealing color when finished.
  2. Return all veg to the pot along with carrot greens, bouquet and allspice and cover with water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim as needed. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 additional minutes. Strain & chill.

For the Soup

  1. Using a cast iron pan, sweat the onions in a bit of neutral oil until they are translucent and just starting to color.
  2. Add the green beans and briefly sauté until starting to soften.
  3. Add vegetable stock just to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and beans are very soft (add more stock or water if necessary).
  4. Once the liquid has completely evaporated, stir often, allowing them to scorch slightly.
  5. Place in a blender and add enough vegetable stock to make a puree. Add more stock bit by bit until the desired thickness is achieved, keeping in mind that the soup will be served chilled.
  6. Return to the pot and to the heat and bring just to the boil to meld all the flavors. Adjust seasoning
  7. Push through a fine chinois and then chill.

For the CroutonsImage

  1. Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar & salt.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to combine.
  3. Pour into a greased loaf pan and place in an oven preheated to 425º.
  4. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Remove cornbread from pan and slice into ½” squares.
  6. Place on a sheet pan and drizzle with melted butter. Toss lightly and place back in the oven til crisp and golden.

For Service

  1. Ladle soup into bowls & top with cornbread croutons, micro-greens and a drizzle of olive oil.

Drink Pairing
Broadbent Vinho Verde – 2011

Unexpected Fame

Photo courtesy of bkgreenmarkets

I entered the annual apple pie bake-off at my local farmer’s market.

After that, everything went wrong.

I decided that I would prep all my pie components on Saturday and then assemble and bake the pie on Sunday, the day of the competition. I’m pretty bad about following that age-old rule of never making something for someone that you haven’t made before–so the pie was basically an experiment.

I started with a pecan crust. Having never made a nut crust, I figured I would just cut some of the flour from my usual pie crust and sub in pecan meal. It all seemed to go fine & after chilling it rolled out well. I left the rolled crust in the fridge to rest overnight.

I made a bourbon-brown sugar apple compote. It tasted awesome. I chilled it and put it too in the fridge.

On Sunday morning I awoke, padded up to the kitchen, noticed my refrigerator had been left ajar, proceeded to freak out, and resolved my mind to make it work. However, my crust was far too warm/soft to roll up or fold up or transfer in any way and fell apart. Thus I proceeded to pat and patch it into the pan–I’d planned to do a rustic edge anyway, so thought this fine. I assembled the rest of the pie–crises mostly averted, I went to rest while my crust set in a 425 oven for 10 minutes.

My fire alarm went off.

Back in the kitchen there was smoke billowing from my oven. No actual fire, thank goodness–I assume something must have spilled onto the oven floor. Convinced my wayward crust and once great compote would now taste like barbecue, I turned the oven down to 350 to finish baking. The smoke stopped.

Upon removal, I let the pie rest. I’d made it in a spring form, so took off the sides, allowing it to cool a little faster. Ready to go, I tried to transfer it from baking dish to serving dish: the crust caved in.

I proceeded to freak out.

Oh well, it’s only one quadrant.

I took the pie anyway since I had a friend coming to enter the contest as well. And I didn’t want to let my market manager down, as she knows me by name…

And then I won.

And now people on the neighborhood blog are asking if they can buy one.

It just goes to show you: figuring out the world is impossible.

Figuring out this salad was pretty easy though. It was the first official course of menu project & you can read all about the inspiration here.

7 Component Salad
Yield: 8 Servings

280 grams baby romaine
8 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
8 halves deviled eggs
200 grams bacon
150 grams Parmesan Cheese, cut into ½” shards
300 grams green peas
200 grams celery, macedoine
Chives, for garnish

For the Dressing
1 egg yolk
1 T Dijon
¼ t salt
½ t sherry vinegar
½ t lemon juice
1 t granular sugar
Cayenne pepper, to taste
150 g neutral oil
Celery Leaves, hacher
Water, as needed

For the Deviled Eggs
4 hard boiled eggs
bacon fat from the lardon
1T mayonnaise
½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ t cayenne
30 g sweet pickles, brunoise
2 t chives, minced, plus more for garnish
Paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Dressing

  1. Combine egg yolk, mustard, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and pepper in a bowl.
  2. Whisk the oil in gradually to create an emulsion and until you’ve reached the desired consistency (adding water to loosen if necessary). Add celery leaves.

For the Bacon:

  1. Remove the rind and cut the bacon into strips ½” long
  2. Cut the bacon strips into lardons, approximately ½” wide.
  3. Sauté the lardon until they render out most of their fat.
  4. Set aside and reserve bacon fat.

 For the Peas & Celery:

  1. Prepare each, separately, à l’anglaise, refresh in ice water, and then combine and set aside.

 For the Deviled Eggs:

  1. Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Refresh Eggs in ice water for several minutes and then peel.
  3. Slice eggs in half. Set the whites aside and put the yolks into a bowl with mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne and salt. Mash the yolks into a paste and then add rendered bacon fat until it reaches the desired consistency.
  4. Stir in the pickles and 2 t chives.
  5. Put the yolk mixture into a piping bag and pipe into the egg white cavities.
  6. Garnish each egg with paprika and a 1 inch piece of chive.

 For the Water Chestnuts:

  1. Rinse well and peel with a vegetable peeler.
  2. Slice into ¼” rounds.
  3. Rinse again & set aside, in cold water.

 For Service:

  1. Lightly dress lettuce and place a layer on each plate.
  2. Dress the pea and celery mixture and fill a 2” ring mold.
  3. Set 1 egg half atop each mound. And remove ring mold.
  4. Drain water chestnuts & dress. Place 3 slices on each plate.
  5. Place 3 pieces each of the bacon lardons & Parmesan shards around the plate.
  6. Garnish with minced chives.

 

Each course require a beverage pairing, for this one I chose a Rose Spritzer. More on why here.

Drink Pairing

Rosé Spritzer
Yield: 8 drinks

1 bottle Château Tassin Rosé from Wineberry  
4 oz. Cherry Heering Liqueur
Seltzer Water, to taste
1 Lemon
1 Lime
8 Maraschino cherries


For the Maraschino Cherries
1 pint sour cherries
1 cup unrefined sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
3 black peppercorns
1 sprig thyme

For the Maraschino Cherries

  1. Put sugar, water, peppercorns, thyme and a pinch of salt into a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add cherries (they can be pitted, but leaving the pits in does lend additional flavor). Return to a boil until they’ve turned bright red.
  3. Pour into a holding vessel and add liqueur. Let rest until they’ve reached room temperature. Chill.

For the Cocktail

  1. Fill cocktail glasses half-way with ice.
  2. Slice both the lemon and the lime thinly. Lightly twist one round of each over 8 glasses to release the essential oils & then drop the round into the glass.
  3. Pour 2 ounces of wine into each glass.
  4. Pour 0.5 ounce of cherry liqueur into each glass.
  5. Top with seltzer, stir gently, garnish with cherry & serve.

A Taste of Something New

This past month, I’ve been spending a lot of time volunteering. The goal of these endeavors is two-fold: first networking. I’m terrible at networking. Coming from  an acting background people often say to me, can’t you just act like you’re charming/having a good time/interested in other people? The truth is, I can not; and the reason I can’t is precisely because I come from an acting background. I spent a large portion of my life pretending to be someone else and then dove into a career where the ultimate goal is to become someone else, if only for a moment in time. And thus, I still find it hard to function in a larger social setting…my middle name is Awkward.

The upside of all the volunteering–which includes restaurant trails–is all the free food. I’ve sampled canapés and small bites from some of NY’s best this month and I wish that I could make a career out of it. Sure I have to do a little bit of work (a very little bit) but thus far the pros have far outweighed the cons.

This canapé has nothing to do with any of those that I’ve tried & unfortunately it’s sort of past it’s season. Although my local Greenmarket still has watermelons available (thanks mild fall!); so you can try it yourself if you’re so inclined. It was the amuse bouche for my Menu Project dinner party.

Watermelon Canapé

1 watermelon cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup unrefined sugar
Basil, for garnish

For the Balsamic Reduction

  1. Combine vinegar & sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce by a third. Chill

For the Watermelon

  1. Using a melon baller, hollow out the tops of each cube.
  2. Set them, hollow side down, on a paper towel lined sheet pan, in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

Fill each cube with the balsamic reduction and garnish with a small sprig of basil.

Growing Up & Branching Out

As I progressed in the development of my menu project, something seemingly unrelated, yet altogether more important, became apparent to me: that the end of July, 2012—the point at which the project would be due—would mark the end of a near decade living with my sister, as adults, tackling New York as comrades.

I point this out because my menu focused on heightened versions of the foods of our youth. Taking the recipes learned from my mother or grandmother and twisting them into restaurant worthy dishes was a study in reflection. First in reminiscence of the time spent eating those dishes, how they shaped the chef to be. Second, seeing the analogy of how the lessons learned in adolescence mold us into the people we become. And so I hosted a dinner party, to showcase the things I’ve learned in culinary school and, more significantly, to say goodbye to a time that was.

The night started with a last-minute canapé. What else can you do when faced with such gorgeously sweet watermelons at the Greenmarket? A quick Pinterest search revealed a delicious solution: watermelon cubes with a hollowed top, filled with balsamic reduction (1 cup of balsamic + ¼ cup sugar, reduced by a third), and garnished with basil.

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     My mother’s classic 7-Layer Salad

First on the menu: 7-Component Salad. Based on the American classic 7-Layer Salad, I took the elements from the salad specific to my mother’s version—a favorite of my 12 year-old self—and rearranged them into a dish composed of seven elements: baby romaine, pea & celery timbale, bacon lardon, fresh sliced water chestnuts, and parmesan, all crowned with a deviled egg and held together by a mayonnaise-based dressing. To accompany the dish I prepared a cherry-rosé spritzer, complete with a homemade maraschino cherry (adult cherry limeade anyone?). A light and easy way to start the meal, by making this a composed salad, each ingredient was allowed to stand out on the plate. Similarly light, the spritzer didn’t compete with any of the salad’s ingredients and kept the course refreshing.

Next up, soup. A recent conversation with a classmate revealed to me the disparity of feelings toward the green bean. She thought people didn’t like them because they’re so oft overcooked. I feel that people don’t like them because they’re so oft undercooked. I suppose to each his or her own; but, if you want

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Cookin’ up a mess a
beans, circa 1995

some good, Southern green beans you’ll start by caramelizing sweet onions in a cast-iron pan and then braising them, along with the beans, until the liquid has evaporated and the beans are slightly scorched. This method lends the beans an almost grilled flavor. I took this dish a step further by then pureeing the scorched beans with homemade vegetable stock and chilling the resulting soup—after all, I always preferred to eat those beans a day later, straight out of the fridge. The flavor is saturated with green bean unctuousness, a slightly sweet tinge from the onions, spice from copious black pepper and a hint of smokiness from the char. Topped with crunchy, buttery cornbread croutons, the soup is a delectable improvement on such a simple side dish. To pair, Broadbent Vinho Verde. A Portuguese white wine, the nose of citrus is a great complement to the aforementioned unctuousness of the soup and the grassy element pulls out that “green” flavor of the beans. In addition, Vinho Verde’s are infused with a splash of CO2 & the effervescence of the wine lifts the palate out of the deep, creamy soup and washes off the tongue so that you can fully enjoy the next bite.

 The main course of my project was inspired by a true Southern staple: the BBQ platter. While I do enjoy

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Big John’s BBQ Platter: unfortunately, not the original—the new owner got rid of the curly fries!!! At least the BBQ hasn’t changed.

making a faux Memphis pork butt in my NYC apartment, I wanted to create a dish that could stand up to fancier fare, but still lend a similar, satisfying flavor profile. Thus, tangy slaw, baked beans, curly fries and a mess of pulled pork became a pork loin & beer-braised cabbage roulade with cider gastrique, an heirloom bean salad and pommes rissoles, shaped with a melon baller to mimic the curl of those much adored fries of myriad 4th’s of July & uncountable family reunions. The pairing for this course was easy: Unibroue Ephemere Apple, a Canadian white ale brewed with apple must. The nose of this ale gives off a whiff of green apple—a natural pairing with pork—and it has the dry, cleansing sip of a hefeweisen, perfect for a hot summer day and for cutting through the rich porky-tomatoey gastrique.

To finish the meal, a tart. Reminiscent of a particular chain’s strawberry pie, I lifted a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen to create a dessert showcasing my favorite fruit—the one I remember gathering by the bushel—dark, juicy blackberries. While I might have preferred a pâté sucrée for this recipe, I instead made the only crust that could survive a NYC apartment in July, pâté sablée. Like the berries themselves, the pie was both tart and sweet, held together by homemade preserves, just slightly set with

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A tale of two pies: Shoney’s Strawberry is a classic American crust piled high with juicy fresh berries bound by gelatin & cornstarch. My mother’s Lemon Icebox is a “custard” pie set in a graham cracker crust. Two summer staples, millions of memories.

gelatin. As an accompaniment, I made burnt lemon ice cream. The ice cream was meant to invoke another much loved dessert: Lemon Icebox Pie. Made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, lemon jell-o and fresh lemon juice set in a graham cracker crust, I echoed the pie’s flavor and lightness by first making a caramel of the lemon juice and part of the sugar. Taking this step adds depth to the lemon flavor, but it also evokes the flavor of that graham cracker crust. I then incorporated the dairy and tempered just two egg yolks to add richness but to avoid an ice cream too dense. Left to cure overnight, the next day I whisked in a small amount of gelatin. Meant to prevent any possible iciness, I suppose the gelatin’s main purpose was to pay homage to the dessert’s inspiration. The drink here was a mint julep prepared with a fresh mint tea and Riverboat Rye whiskey. Another light, refreshing drink—with just a bit of tipsy—the bourbon played off the caramel in the ice cream and the toastiness of the pie crust. The mint, of course, provided a new presentation for the much maligned garnish of the dessert plate and kept the refreshment factor flowing.

The evening concluded with toasts of dreams pursued and goals achieved. Memories had snaked their way into conversation and we’d laughed more than once at the expense of our younger selves. But as has been said, “all good things come to an end;” so, once the meal was over and the anecdotes had been told, I hugged my sister as she & her fiancé stepped out the door to head off to their new apartment. This, however, was not an embrace to say goodbye; merely one that said, “Thank you & I’ll see you next weekend.”