Wednesday, June 23, 2010

That was...how many recipes?

While preparing for another one of our Thursdays @ Worth Street dinners, I received an email from my dad. Included in his email was the following formula (please bare in mind he is an accountant):
According to my dad’s calculations, if we decided to do this project of cooking each Thursday for an entire year, the following would need to happen: For one, Felipe would have to come up with 135 new and different recipes (this is taking into consideration three plates per dinner). Secondly, we would have to account for a total of 180 people invited (this is considering we invite at least 4 guests per dinner). 135 new recipes…180 people invited to our apartment! So here is MY very non-accountant account of these two figures: According to my calculations (And please, bare in mind I deal with deciphering human behavior for a living, so numbers isn't really my thing):
So far, I would say we’ve got about 37 people here in NY which we know well enough to invite over for dinner. This means we have to get to know 143 more people by the end of this year! And not just “know”, but know enough to “invite them up” as the singles would say. This is no joke and could even become dangerous at some point! We are putting our lives in the line here!
Ok there is one more thing. Not only do we have to really get to know 143 more people by the end of this year, we need to start getting to know them right about now! If we take the 37 people in NY we know well, and subtract 9 who were already invited to our dinners, this leaves us with 28 people! And if we consider inviting 4 guests per dinner, that also means we only have 7 Thursdays left with people we already know! And 45 other Thursdays to go of breaking bread and sharing dessert with total strangers!
UF! Well, thank god for the out of towners! My parents are visiting from Miami, and of course, they are arriving today, Thursday, just in time for dinner! And then later in July we will have Felipe’s parents. So to all the out of towners out there, this is a cry for help, get your jetblue promotional email blasts going, we need you here! Ok, so here is the quick countdown of things to happen by the end of this project…
37 of our good NY friends are guaranteed to have a happy stomach by the end of this year
7 weeks from now, we have no idea who we could be having dinner with
We have the potential of getting to know and share a meal with 143 people who we have yet to meet
We are bound to try 133 new recipes
Looking forward to dinner number 4!

Monday, June 21, 2010

An (un)forgettable night with "El Patron"


Last Thursdays at Worth Street was delicious. The theme: A touch of Mexico, which is exactly what we were craving for. Mexico had just won the game against the French in the World Cup, and it was time to celebrate, and what better way but to attempt beating them once again only this time, we would challenge them in the kitchen!

The invitees came with a touch of Mexico as well, besides having over a couple who were originally from Colombia and Venezuela, we had invited a good friend of Felipe’s from Mexico. He had brought with him yet another crucial touch of Mexico, the big guy, the dangerous one, a bottle of Patron.

Guests, check!

Food, check!

Alcohol, check! We were ready to go.

But “the touch of Mexico” didn’t really arrive until later, our Mexican friend as usual, and like a good NY banker, was working late. So for all of us who were already there, our night began with wine and conversations around the kitchen counter, Felipe cooking and me, pretending to peel a mango. Our friends were telling us about their trip to Colombia, it was the very first time they had gone as a couple, and the very first time she had visited his home country. From their trip, she had brought back a really interesting theory: Can the success of a country be based on the love its own people have towards it? What she loved the most about her trip to Colombia was to see the gratitude, faith, love and respect Colombians had towards their own country. Maybe it was the glass of wine, or the beer she had earlier on during a business lunch, but before she knew it the sentiment had taken over. Soon enough she felt a deep desire for Venezuelans to be able to love their own country in that same way so that her country could begin healing and recovering.

We heard the door knock three times, the touch of Mexico had arrived! And right off the bat, our friends called out the “banker” in him. I, personally called out “the nerd” in him. The guy had pretty much memorized the blog beforehand. And like a good student, was using language and words from it so that we would know he had done his homework. Ok, so the guy is really not that bad, and his banking mannerisms wore off soon after we cracked open the bottle of Tequila.

We talked more, about advertising and Obama. About BP and our dependence on oil. We talked about girls, or “touch of Mexico” and his now empty bottle talked about girls, and most importantly, we ate extraordinarily and drank some excellent tequila. No matter where this project takes us, if it guarantees us nights like this last one every week, then I gotta say, I put my cards on the table and call all in.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

After a sweet victory, the celebration!


The dinner was, once again, a huge success! For me it has been a great exercise to work the creative mind as well as practice in the kitchen. Every week gets better and better, and this time I really feel as if I am coming into my own.

Let me cut to the chase and share with you what I consider delicious yet very easy to do recipes. Please enjoy and PLEASE leave comments if you want to share anything or give feedback.

Tuna Tartar

1 tuna filet
¼ cup of fresh mint chopped
¼ cup of diced watermelon
½ lime (squeezed juice)
3 tb spoons of soy sauce
3 tb spoons of sesame oil
4 tb spoons of toasted sesame seed

This recipe is very simple. Cut the tuna into small pieces and mix all the ingredients with the exception of the toasted sesame seeds. The plate is ready to serve, or you could let it sit in the fridge for 30. Add sesame seeds at the moment of serving.

Salmon Tartar

1 salmon filet (3/4 lb)
4 tb spoons of sesame oil
4 tb spoons of soy sauce

Cut salmon into small thin slices. Add sauces and mix together Very simple.

Esquite

1 bag of frozen corn (or 3 fresh corn on the cobs)
¼ cup of mayonnaise
½ cup of queso fresco shredded
¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
2 tb spoons of lime juice
2 tb spoons of chili powder

If cooking frozen corn, cook per the instructions on the package (most likely boil salt ½ cup of salted water add corn and cook for 5 minutes). Place corn kennels in a mixing bowl add mayonnaise & lime juice and mix together. Mix in both types of cheese and serve. Add chili powder on top.

Chipotle Quinoa with Asparagus and Avocado

1 cup of quinoa
12 chopped asparagus
1 avocado chopped
2 cups of chicken broth
1 chipotle chili with adobe sauce
½ yellow onion
½ cup of heavy cream
½ cup of white wine
2 tb of butter

Previous to cooking the quinoa, rinse the quinoa thoroughly with water. Once clean, place quinoa in the pot under medium heat, add some salt and pepper. Begin by adding ¾ of a cup of chicken broth into quinoa and let it absorb the liquid. Continue to add more broth until the quinoa has slowly risen and absorbed all the liquid. Approximately 20 minutes.

Prepare the sauce separately, with melted butter and onions in a saucepan. Then add the chopped chipotle chili into the mix and stir. Add the wine and 5 minutes later the cream. Sauce might be a bit spicy, but remember it is going to be added to all the quinoa. Pour sauce into the quinoa and stir it in.

Cut the asparagus into small pieces and cook in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Once cooked (5 mn) add to quinoa. Add the avocado and mix all together. Quinoa is the ready to serve.

Scallops with Cilantro sauce

20 large sea scallops
1 tb butter
1 cup of finely chopped cilantro
¼ cup of olive oil
1 garlic clove
2 tb spoons of mustard
4 tb spoons of heavy cream

Sauce:
Add cilantro, olive oil, garlic, mustard and cream into a food processor and sop it all up nicely. Cilantro will feel a bit chunky, that is the way you want to present it. Once all ingredients are properly mixed, pass to saucepan and cook lightly for 2 minutes just before serving.

To prepare the scallops, salt and pepper them before cooking. Melt butter in skillet then add all scallops. They should take about 3 minutes to cook on each side with a medium high flame. Serve scallops and then add sauce on top of each one, drizzling a bit around the plate for more presence.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Touch of Mexico


Wow! This week came with a rush. We found ourselves on Wednesday night almost 10:30 and we still didn’t have a complete menu. Time definitely flies when you are doing something you love. Between this project and the World Cup, time has become an abstract notion which its existence to me is non-reality. Unfortunately, to the outside world, time is still very much a reality and this is how we find ourselves on Wednesday trying to create a menu for the three new visitors that will join us the next day.

We actually already had one dish in mind, due to the fact that we had half of a tuna fillet left over from the night before along with some watermelon and mint. Now we had to retrofit a theme into this plate and create from the vastness of our imagination two new plates that would connect perfectly. Luckily the idea came roaring out from Tamy’s creative mind. Seeing as how the next day Mexico played a very important game against France, why not dedicate a night to the country that has given both of us so much. However, we had to be very careful because if Mexico lost the idea of a Mexican centric menu would be lost in defeat. So what we created was a menu focused primarily on seafood but with a touch of Mexican.

Every plate we created had something that would tie it to Mexico, a certain subtlety within the dish. Obviously we had to check before hand what level of spicy our friends would tolerate, but the menu was coming together with ease and flow. The first dish would be a tuna and a salmon tartar garnished with an esquite (Mexican corn dish). The main dish, scallops with a cilantro sauce and a special quinoa. The dessert was one that Tamy would create.

As the reality of time began to fade once again we had a final menu set in stone, all we needed now was a beautiful performance from Mexico the next day and a win!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Night #2 Dinner #2 Fruit in Every Plate


The next day came with a lot of excitement. Not only was it Thursday, which meant the continuation of this excellent project, but it was the day before the World Cup, something I have been waiting for 4 year! So obviously I was anxious for the workday to finish as quickly as possible. At around 6 I ran off to the Whole Foods at Union Square.

NEVER AGAIN!
That place is chaos! Regardless, I purchased the ingredients, ran home and made it with plenty of time to prep the kitchen and all the ingredients. Dinner would be served on time this time around.

So I put on my Mexican jersey in lieu of the big game the next day (and the fact that our Ecuadorian friends wanted South Africa to win!), and started the cooking.

So here were the dishes in order of service:

Balsamic Glazed Figs, Brie cheese and Arugula w/ Strawberry vinaigrette
5 fresh strawberries chopped
8 blueberries
1/3 of a cup of red wine vinegar
1/3 of olive oil (more or less, to taste)
tb spoon of mustard
pinch of salt

1 bag of Arugula
5 strips of bacon
5 fresh or dried figs (I only found dried and they work perfectly)
1/2 of cut Brie cheese
3 tb of Balsamic Oil (I used aged balsamic for greater consistency and flavor)

Start by cooking the bacon on a hot skillet. Cook till crispy, then place in between two pieces of paper towels to soak up the remaining grease.
Next, cut the figs into thin slices and place into a small warm saucepan. Heat for 2 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar. Let the figs soak in al the vinegar. Stir for a couple of minutes until you see the figs get very sticky. Remove from flame and let sit until salad is ready.

Place the chopped strawberries in a bowl or cup and place the vinegar inside. Let them stand for 10 minutes. Mix in remaining ingredients and place through blender for a short mix. Enough for the strawberries to be very finely chopped up and the mix to be of a good consistency for a salad. Taste to make sure that no additional ingredients are needed.

Crumple up bacon to very small pieces, add to arugula in a bowl then add a splash of the vinaigrette and mix. You do not want your salads drowning with dressing. Just add enough to get the leaves damp. Add the figs to the mix and serve to plates. Brie goes on top of salad on each plate (or on top of bowl if serving in a bowl).

Indian-style Basmati rice with fruit

2 Cups basmati rice
3 1/3 cups of water
2 tb spoons of butter
Salt to taste (recommend 1 teaspoon)
1 cup of pineapple
1 cup of papaya
1 cup of sliced almonds

Prepare the rice first. Rinse rice thoroughly in a fine mesh sleeve until water comes out clearly. Melt the butter in heavy pot then place rice inside. Add salt and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the water, bring to a boil, then cover pot. Let rice absorb all the liquid for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for about 5 minutes.
While Rice is cooking, prep the fruit by chopping it into small cubes. Set aside.
Toast almonds in a small pan until they get nice and brown. Remember to continuously move the almonds as they are toasting on a medium flame.
Once all ingredients are ready and rice is cooked, mix together and serve.

“Indian” Curry Chicken
1 full chicken breast (best if with bone, skinless)
1 white onion
2 tb spoons butter
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup of white wine
4 tb spoons of curry mix (please note quantity varies with spices and taste)

Place about 3 quartz of salted water in a pot and bring to a boil. Place chicken into water and let cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain pot once chicken is completely cooked. Run chicken through cold water. Once chicken is cool enough, begin to start tearing meat off the bones.

While waiting for chicken to cook, prepare sauce. Chop onion and place in a sauce pan with melted butter (this by the way creates what is perhaps one of the best smells in the kitchen!). Once onions are soft, pour in curry spice and mix. Then add wine and cream and mix for about 5 minutes. (remember to taste sauce continuously to make sure that enough curry was added as well as salt)

Mix both the sauce and the chicken in pan and ready to serve.

For dessert I went with what could be considered a simple solution, but truthfully, a chocolate fondue is always a great way to go. The key here is to choose the best chocolate. I went with a delicious bittersweet chocolate bar called “Green & Black’s Organic Maya Gold.” It had a hint of orange to continue with the theme. So for the easy recipe of chocolate fondue:

Felipe’s Fabulous Chocolate Fondue

3.5 oz of bittersweet chocolate
1 tb spoon of butter
2 tb spoons of pure cane sugar
4 tb spoons of heavy whipping cream
Your choice of cut fruit (strawberries, mango, pineapple recommended)
Any cookies (we chose sugar butter cookies)

Heat up a double boiler and melt butter, add sugar and cream. Then slowly place broken up pieces of the chocolate until completely melted. Serve chocolate in a small bowl surrounded by the fruit and cookies. Dip and enjoy.

So that was the dinner!
The best part of it is always enjoying the food with a table full of good friends!

I want to make a very special note. Moving forward on all Thursday's @ Worth Street write ups, I will be featuring a special section dedicated to wine. As a foodie, I believe half of the dinner is the wine. This weeks wine was a delicious Austrialian Shiraz, unfortunately the name I cannot recall. I will now provide full names and pictures of the wine.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The thread that holds everything together...

Finding a theme for any great dinner is the most important yet probably the hardest thing to do. You do not want your plates to feel random or disconnected, however making something overtly obvious is probably not your best bet either (after all this isn’t Iron Chef!). Subtlety is always the best way to go. Whether it’s a taste, and ingredient, or even a smell, keeping your foods linked is key to creating an outstanding meal.

This is a great transition to this weeks dinner. We usually try to create a theme based on the people that we have invited. This time around we had planned to have an Ecuadorian couple and her sister, which was visiting. Well with such an obvious theme, one would think that Ecuadorian food would be the continuous link, however, as mentioned above, the obvious isn’t really the best way to go. First off, I am not too sure what is the most typical Ecuadorian food, and with 3 Ecuadorians, why give them something familiar? Better serve something new and different. So with that ruled out from the get go, what would this weeks dinner be based on?

There you see me, on Wednesday night going through my collection of cooking books (not to use the recipes, but for inspiration), Alain Ducasse has some amazing books, and I will tackle his cooking soon enough, just not this week. Gaston Acurio from Peru has some amazing dishes, and his books are inspiring but I feel that last weeks use of aji amarillo would seem as if I am overdoing it on the Peruvian food. Nothing was working. I had 7 books laid out in front of me, and inspiration came through one treasure of a book from Villegas Editores called Sabor + Color (Maria Villegas). Skimming through it, I came upon a recipe for a very common dish, tuna tartar. But it was the use of the fruit that really struck a cord, and like that I found my theme for the night… fruit! The use of fruit in Latin America is very prominent so why not create dishes that revolved around fruit.

At once Tamy and I started brainstorming ideas. She had told me once of a rice with fruit that she ate in India and never ever saw again. Immediately I thought I could use the amazing Indian spices that I have and create a curry. Done a delicious Indian curry with her rice with fruit. For appetizer, a salad with aged balsamic caramelized figs and a fresh strawberry vinaigrette. It was amazing how the ideas started to roll out the second I knew what that one connection was. Our menu was set in stone and ready to go.

That very same night I got going on grinding various spices, that were brought to me from a friend and my mother’s trip to India, together to create my version of an Indian curry. Now, I do not pretend to know an authentic recipe for Indian curry, nor is the one that I will provide you with pretend to be authentic. This is just my take on a classic. So, I took a mix of spices, some of which I knew and recognized, others I had no idea what they were or called (please see picture). Placed them in my version of a mortar, a coffee cup, and began grinding them with my makeshift pestle, a caipirinha fruit masher. After about 20 minutes of grinding and a tired arm, I ended up with the red powder that I was expecting and set it aside for the night.

With the grocery list ready to go, we were set for a goodnight rest.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The first Thusrday dinner - A short postmortem

Last night began our Thursday’s @ Worth st experiment! After all the food preparation, we all sat down to eat dinner and Felipe did a short intro, an explanation and description of the plate, the story of why he landed where he landed in terms of the ingredients and combinations of food. As he began speaking, I couldn’t help but notice that all who were seated, slightly tilt their head down, almost as if getting ready for a prayer. Could it be that for Felipe and I, our dinner rituals have become our own little religion we have made up for ourselves? Aren’t our dinner rituals after all, full of faith, flavors, imagination and creativity, all things which we firmly believe in and things that form part of our day to day relationship, our worship.

To add to that, Mireia delivered a speech that was so beautiful. She spoke about her excitement to be part of our new experiment, and how she always looks forward to our new projects. It feels so good to be surrounded by people who take out the best in you.

After dinner, we enjoyed a delicious dessert, which happened to be the first one of Felipe’s that I have tried! (the guy isn’t into cooking sweets, thank god!). Suddenly it occurred to me that a new table we had just bought will be arriving at our apartment this month! While its not your traditional table, it all makes sense to me now why we got it. The table we ordered sits people in two flat benches, feels almost like a picnic table indoors, very communal and open like. Its actually quite perfect and solves for many questions for many out there! So next time people ask, will your kids be raised up Jewish or Catholic, we’ll just tell them we aren’t quite sure yet, but we’ll be sure to sit them down on the bench and teach them the importance of company, ingredients, and imagination. And that is it for now!



And so it begins...

It’s absolutely fascinating to see how the creative mind works. I experience it daily at my day job. You see I work at a very large ad agency, and creative ideas are our daily bread. I have the pleasure of working with some amazing creative talent and see how they develop their ideas to execution. My job role does not have any part in the creation process, I work more on the strategic process of defining who we are talking to and making sure that the execution is in line with what the client’s needs are. At the end of the day, it’s very executional and not very creative. However, this all changes when I begin to plan a dinner and the creative process that follows is how my creative mind works.

When we embarked on executing this idea of special dinners every Thursday, I made it a clear challenge to myself that I would not be creating dishes that I was very familiar with, but instead taking myself out of my comfort zone and working on anything and everything I could. Which lead to the inspiration for this week.

Our original invitees for the week were two women, one pregnant and with a tight diet and the other a health nut with a vegan heart (but not vegan at all). I decided to create something based on the audience and their dietary needs. So I began with the easiest part, the main plate.

[ENTER STATE OF MIND]
A fish, what fish? But wait Tamy (my wife) hates fish. But she liked the fish we had at our wedding. Sea Bass. Can’t go wrong with a sea bass, but what do with it? Sauce? Garnishes? Yes, Cilantro pasta! Sauce? Hhhmmm (we’re eating Peruvian later tonight so my mind goes directly there) Aji Amarillo. YES an Aji Amarillo sauce with a goat cheese base. Do we need a veggie? How about broccolini with mushrooms? No that’s two greens and a yellow, the color scheme would be totally off and look bad. Do we need a third? No forget it. We have our main dish.

Now for an appetizer…
We started considering something with mushrooms, Tamy suggested stuffed mushrooms, hhmmm doesn’t quite fit with the main dish. There needs to be some connection between one dish and the other. We go through the entire process of creating a dish (which we might use later) of stuffed mushrooms with bacon bits, brie cheese. Sounds delicious but not for this dinner.

Finally I decide to go with a salad, a refreshing salad, yet still one that is unusual. Arugula, mango, papaya, Tamy suggests cucumber (delicious) and an orange/lime ginger dressing. Perfect!

[EXIT STATE OF MIND]

“What about dessert?” she asks. Well, I am nor really the dessert guy. Why? Well because dessert is much more of a science, too much or too little of any ingredient and your soufflé doesn’t rise, your mousse stays liquid, or your tart tastes flat. You see, I am much more the style of cook that puts in what ‘feels’ right, not an exact recipe to the teaspoon (so please follow my recipes as that, they are not exact!). To that note, I would wait until the last minute to see what I was going to do with dessert, but I promise, no cop out by buying ice cream or anything else like that.

So the day arrives and I have added one additional friend to the list of invitees, a former co-worker that just moved into the city, he would make a great addition to the group. What seemed to be a short day at work ended up being a lengthy one followed by a running trip through Whole Foods buying all the ingredients. Long story short, I arrive home at 7:45 guest are arriving at 8 and I have not even begun unpacking the ingredients. Prioritization is of essence, but I work very well under pressure and especially in the kitchen (mind you that the mess I leave behind after cooking, under these circumstances, is huge). So I begin with dessert first as this takes the longest cooking time in the fridge. This is what I prepared:

Coconut/Mango Mousse
1 Mango
1 can of Coconut Milk
2 Egg whites
1/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 envelope of gelatin
½ cup of sugar (cane sugar)
Grated ginger (fresh)
Grated lime peel

Combine the coconut milk, the egg whites, whipping cream, ginger and sugar in a bowl and beat well with a hand mix until the mix will begins to foam up. Transfer to a double boiler until it simmers then mix in the gelatin, stir. Pour mix into 6 separate bowls.
Dice mango into small cubes and place in each bowl.
Place bowls in the fridge for approximately 3 hours.
When removing from fridge before serving, grind a little lime peel for color and flavor.

Next up, I took time to begin what I should have done from the beginning, but with the longest plate out of the way, I prepped the main plate and appetizer. Had everything cut up and ready to go so it would be a much easier process on preparing the dishes. I prepared all dishes more or less at the same time, however I held off on cooking the fish until the appetizer was almost finished. So here are the remaining 3 dishes starting with the appetizer:

Arugula Papaya/Cucumber Salad
1 bag of Arugula
2 cups of diced papaya
1 cup of thinly sliced cucumber

Dressing:
1 lemon
½ cup of orange juice
¼ of a cup of olive oil
Honey (to taste)
Grated ginger (fresh)

For the dressing, squeeze the juice out of the lemon and mix all the ingredients together. Please note that the honey is for additional sweetness, I prefer to add approximately two spoonfuls, but this is to taste.
Mix the dressing in with the arugula just before serving. Serve arugula first then add the papaya and cucumber on top.

Now for the main dishes:

Chilean Sea Bass with Aji Amarillo/Goat Cheese sauce
1 Aji Amarillo chile
1 yellow onion
2 cups of dry white wine
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 roll of goat cheese
4 pieces of Chilean sea bass

Sauce:
Place 2 tbs of butter into a small sauce pan, melt then place chopped onions until soft. Add wine and aji and let it reduce for 10 minutes. Add whipping cream and salt and pepper to flavor. Pass mix through food processor or blender, then strain into sauce pan. Melt the goat cheese into the mix. Sauce should look thick.

Fish:
Cook fish on a skillet just before serving. Total cooking time is about 8 to 10 minutes. Melt butter in skillet and place previously salt & peppered fish steak into skillet. Let it cook for 4 minutes then turn. Serve on dish then use sauce as a garnish on top of filet.

Cilantro Pasta
2 cups of chopped cilantro
1 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of mustard
2 egg yolks
Linguini/Spaghetti

Place chopped cilantro, mustard, egg yolks, portion of olive oil, salt & pepper into a food processor/blender. Begin to process at slow and slowly pour in the olive oil (should be a hair thin pour) sauce begins to take form and gets thick.
Cook pasta & drain. Replace hot pasta into pot and mix in cilantro sauce (pasta needs to still be hot). Sauce will cook onto the pasta.

As for serving, my personal choice was to serve the fish with a spoonful of sauce on top as well as a spoonful garnish on the side. The pasta was rolled and served on the other side of the fish.