Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From a Crazy Week to Thanksgiving in Mexico

The lights were on, the camera was rolling, the food was being prepped... and then the call arrived that made us jump on a plane within 4 hours. We sent our friends packing up their equipment and taking off, and what would have been an amazing and delicious dinner was left in the freezer.

We have been in Colombia for 5 days an currently sitting in the El Dorado airport in Bogota waiting to take off to Mexico City. Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I have not even begun to think about the full menu.  But in my occasional check-in to email I found out that we have received +$400 for our charity fund, something that makes us very happy. Especially since it has been unexpected. 

Between tomorrow and Friday we expect much more but this has been an amazing turnout. So to all of you thank you!

For those who are curious, we have two thanksgiving dinners, the first one if for the immediate family (with the exception of my mom who will stay in Colombia during these holidays) on Thursday. The second will be on Friday with a more Mexican theme, with our close friends. The first turkey will be a "italian sytle" turkey with basil, rosemary, white wine. The second one will be a Chipotle & honey base with orange juice. Stuffings TBD.

I wish all of you the best for this Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your friends and family. And always remember to be thankful for everything you have...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Vegetarian Dinner: The Good, The Bad, and The Delicious

It is not very often that I can actually make the link that is made on the title. Its not that I am not the vegetarian type, I am just too in love with all things involving meat and animal fat. I know that half of you reading this just kind of rolled your eyes and thought "eeeww animal fat". However the other half, who is cleaning up your keyboards from thinking or remembering my squash fried in duck fat... I am talking to you. There is something to be said about a well made vegetarian dinner. 100% vegetarian, no fat, not animal broth, no fish, just good 'ol earth grown goodness. If Mario Batali were ever to read this blog, I think he just clicked the back button. However, I think that the results of the challenge was a plate that would even make Batali proud.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is alway, ALWAYS, a good thing. It bring new things that you never thought you were capable of doing. The last time I made a "vegetarian" dinner, I included scallops. I cheated. So a month ago, when we decided to have a veggie only dinner, there would be no cheating. And so it began, the guest were set, the theme was there, all that I needed now was a menu. Inspiration came in various forms. First off, a friend of mine advised me to stay away from the staple vegetarian food; squash, eggplant, and zucchini. Apparently vegetarians are sick and tired of eating the same food when the order a vegetarian sandwich or dinner. Point taken. The same person suggested the use of polenta, the delicious italian starch that is made from dried corn, delicious. The rest of the inspiration came from two places. First, from a gift a past guest of our made, a ver large bag of hibiscus flowers (dried) and second, by strolling through the amazing Greenmarket in Union Square. Have you ever seen a head of romanesque broccoli? Just by seeing it makes you want to try it. The freshest veggies were chosen. Moving from stand to stand, not know what I was going to do, little by little the menu was created:

Pan fried Shishinto Peppers with Sea Salt

Flash fried hibiscus flower taco with cream and a green tomato salsa
Fried goat cheese stuffed zucchine blossoms with a chipotle cream

Seared baby portobello mushrooms on top of a Grilled polenta with asiago cheese surrounded by a pool of freshly made vegetable broth and steamed romanesque broccoli.

Hibiscus Creme Brulee... SPOILER ALERT... (it failed)

We finally began creating the menus again! Here is the table before everyone arrived. 
The appetizer was very interesting to make. Even though Hibiscus  flowers are hard to come by in the States, it is a very common in Mexico. I left the flowers soaking for 24 hours in water (the water I then used as a hibiscus iced tea, or agua de jamaica as it is know in Mexico). Then I flash fried them in very hot oil for no more than 30 seconds. Once you remove them from the oil and onto a paper towel, salt them immediately. The tortillas are also home made. The zucchini blossoms are from a recipe that I have used in the past with a white wine and flour base.

This plate came out so great not so much due to the cooking, but due to the freshness and amazing flavors of all the ingredients. The polenta was home made (no I did not grind the dried corn, but I did not buy that roll they sell in the supermarket) with rosemary and veggie broth. The mushrooms were sauteed with a little bit of salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. The vegetable broth was made 12 hours in advance using 6 leeks 2 onions, some garlic, 6 carrots and a lot of rosemary (about 6+ cups of broth).

Its seems as if its Tamy that always takes the pictures because I definitely come out way more than she does. Anyways this was the group just before enjoying the dinner.

Brian was warning of a a rabbit with big pointy teeth! (context)(more context)
Notice that I totally skipped the dessert? Well that because a) the camera ran out of memory space and b) the hibiscus flowers actually cut the cream and what resulted was a flavorful dessert that looked terrible and had very bad texture. But I guess in all experiments you can't alway succeed. Failure is an option and I learned a lot (much more) by failing. Its always fun to have this group of people to try my experiments on!
Thank you all.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving is Right Around the Corner... Its Time to be Grateful

There is always plenty to be grateful for. This year, Tamy and I started our life together. Created this awesome project which has just taken our life into a completely unknown direction. Professionally we are doing fantastic. And to top it all off, as some of you might or might not know, my father put up a great fight to cancer, lung cancer to be exact. It was very tough on him and the family, but he stuck to it and beat it. Thank God he was smart... due to regular check-ups, the cancer was discovered early on and did not metastasize anywhere else. This is indeed a very important Thanksgiving for the entire family.

It is for this reason, that this year we have decided to do something very special. It is time that we help out much more to those who have not been as lucky as us, to those who have not been able to put up the fight that my father did. Tamy and I will be flying to Mexico on a very special Thursday at Worth Street for a charity dinner with my family and friends. We will be supporting a very poor hospital in the city of Queretaro (about two hours outside of Mexico City) that helps out children with cancer. These kids never had the same chance that my father did, but with our help, we can at least give them a fighting chance.

The hospital is called AMANC Queretaro and we feel very fortunate to be able to help them in any way possible!

At this point I reach out to all of you. If you want to help out in anyway please reach out to us. We also have a PayPal account setup to receive any donations anyone might want to give. Please send us an email to with any comments, ideas, suggestions or anything you would like to share.

We will keep all of you all up-to-date on our progress and on the very special event.

Help us by saying FUCK CANCER! (sorry for the language but its the true emotion that the disease brings out!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Truth Behind Vegetarians

This is the second post for dinner #23, the one before it I wrote and than deleted four days later.  

I had the pleasure and luck to sit down during a meal next to Ze Frank, who I told about our Thursdays at Worth Street experiment. I asked for his opinion on the project and he replied to me with a question that gave me a totally new and insightful perspective. He asked: Are you telling the truth about the dinners when you write about them on the blog? My knee jerk reaction was to reply yes, of course! But his question also came just at the right moment where my truthfulness in my writing was about to be put into question. The TRUTH is, I do find something very unique and special about all the dinners we have had so far, but of course, there are some things that go wrong, that are off, that don’t catch flow or connect in the way we would want them to. His question made me question my writing, in a good way of course! It made me shove it a little bit against the edges of social correctness and create a new filter I can evaluate my writing against: Complete and utter truth. I will now document the pink, sweet and fluffy but also all those gray areas in between.

The second expression of dinner #23

The night felt a bit off right from the get go. I was leaving to go to a conference in Mexico early Wednesday morning and we didn’t want to cancel dinner for the week so instead we decided to have the dinner take place on a Tuesday.  Like the butterfly effect, this had an impact in just about everything leading up to the dinner: Brainstorming the menu, going to the market, confirming guests, consulting wines, and many other endeavors that happen in between dinners. On top of that, it was a complicated dinner since it was all vegetarian. Not to blame our vegetarian friends, but these dishes, rather than more simple can become very complex and elaborate, especially when one is trying to escape the traditional and present an exciting menu to a group of people who are usually limited in their options. We wanted to allow our guests to rethink their possibilities when it came to food and create something  for them that was rich and fulfilling. Very beautiful in theory, much chaotic in practice.

This complexity quickly became apparent in what a real, full on restaurant would be the back of the kitchen, but unfortunately for this particular night, was front and center and completely visible to all the guests.  The kitchen became a HOT MESS, there was barely any room left to prepare the food, the kitchen counter was FULL with ingredients, sauces, plates, skillets, pans, you name it! It looked like a crazy Turkish bazaar. It was so crowded with stuff that even I felt there was no room for me in it. Felipe was maintaining composure but I could tell he was getting flustered. While he wasn’t making it apparent, he had on that undeniable vibe only couples pick up from each other. For the first time, I was not let in, I became a guest rather than a player, I sat on the bench, waiting for my turn to join in on the game.  And suddenly, still on the bench, I started seeing all the pieces coming together. All of these food elements were actually randomly connected. The kitchen started to make sense and that tension all of a sudden started wearing off. At the end, this was one of the most delicious dinners Felipe has made. It was exceptional, delicate, unique and just exquisite! Best of all, I got to see it all. I got a sneak peak into the imagination of his brain and its ability to deconstruct and build back up again. I got to see and enjoy the food from the perspective of our guests.

So to all our vegetarian guests, which also came randomly together, thanks for pushing Felipe’s culinary limits and challenging us in just about every way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Night Full of Nuts... Oh and Food As Well

There is very little more that I could add to dinner #22 that Tamy has not mentioned in her previous post. In fact, I won't even give it a shot as she pretty much created a great example of how that night went down. The truth is that it was truly a night full of surprises and one for the record books. I have never laughed and cried so much in a very long time. And agreed, there are many variables and excuses that helped, but there is a lot to be said regarding group chemistry and energy. Call me esoteric or what you will, but there was some amazing energy in that room that night. It seemed as if everyone gathered around were long lost friends... all it took was half an hour to get to know one another and then all of a sudden friends were catching up on everyone's lives. BUT, none of the guest had ever meet each other, nor did they have anything in common, no shared thread. 8 people, completely different, but coming together in almost perfect harmony.

Energy, that inexplicable force that draws us together, the pure essence that we cannot see, nor taste, nor smell but we can feel it. That is how dinner #22 can best be defined... that plus the fact that we were all completely nuts!

And now for the menu:

3 Spreads on quinoa crackers.
- Spaghetti squash with pine nuts
- Smokey artichoke with pistachios
- Goat cheese and walnuts

Lamb kabobs with pistachios on a bed of almond basmati rice
Brussels Sprouts cooked in pancetta oil and honey

Warm chocolate cake with a serving of pecan/Madeira caramel

As I dish the spreads, I try to create some sort of design with the goat cheese and walnuts, only to realize that I probably would not make a great pastry chef. However it tasted delicious. 

I finally figured out a great recipe and use for the quinoa. About a month ago I tried to make quinoa cakes, which proved not as successful as I had envisioned. This time around I created crackers and they came out delicious. The (red and white) quinoa crackers are topped with almonds, accompanied by the three different spreads. The recipe is not that hard but a bit long for the crackers. If there is enough demand I will post the recipe here.
The raw kabobs just before they went on the grill. You can see the the pistachios all over the meat. The recipe is very easy straight forward, but we had secret ingredient that came straight from Greece. 2lbs of ground lamb with a cup of chopped up pistachios, salt, and the special spice mix (it included mint and marjoram). Mix all the ingredients together, then roll into separate pieces and place the stick through it as above. Grill the meat for about 10 minutes on medium high heat. Make sure to turn the meat continuously to make sure all the meat is cooked through.
The final presentation of the meat laying on a bed of basmati rice with almonds and brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta and honey. The mix was very different but absolutely delicious. When preparing the brussels sprouts, make sure to cut them in half and peel off the top layer of leaves. The pancetta was cooked first in order to release all the grease. I removed the 4 pieces of pancetta sauteed the sprouts then added it back chopped up into tiny pieces for flavor.
The warm chocolate cake was a great finale to the dinner. What really made this plate special was the pecan/Madeira caramel that we served apart (but meant to mix together). This recipe is simple. 1 cup of Madeira wine and about 1/2 cup of sugar. Let the mixture boil down to a caramel. Add the pecans and let cool down a bit in order to get a smooth caramel texture.
And this is the nutty group! Thank you all for making this such an amazing night!
A very special call out to the wines of the night need to be made! The following were the top three wines of the night in no particular order:
An unfiltered white from the Alsace region of France. The Binner was Amazing!
An amazing red from Lebanon, yes I know Lebanon. Spectacular and full bodied. Chateau Musar
The Donati was the clear winner of the night. Nobody expects the flavors that come out of that bottle. Its somewhere in between a sparkaling white and a beer. Don't believe me? Get one at Frankly Wines!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An Alien with Extraordinary Abilities and a Larger Than Usual Penis

Pic courtesy of Heather Lockhart
Yes, ladies and gentleman, you read correctly, I wrote penis on the title. Why did I do that? Because I can, and that is the beauty of this crazy, social, psychological, emotional experiment that we have going on! We can do with it what we want! I also wrote that oh so indiscreet word because it is what dominated most of the conversation for the last hour of dinner #22. But let me backtrack a bit, I don’t want our well behaved and for the most part sane guests to get a bad rap.

EXCUSE FOR OUR GUESTS TO BEHAVE INDECENTLY #1 – A NUTTY WEEK - The week leading up to dinner #22 was completely NUTS! Our heads were spinning with ideas and opportunities, we were waking up with a rush of energy to do more and create more. And that, we did, but it also made our week pretty insane and extremely busy. So we decided to make the theme of our dinner “GO NUTS”, why the hell not, we were already down that path so we thought, we might as well embrace it! So yes, the name of the dinner, as you can imagine, lead to all conversations being able to be misinterpreted.  And yes, the title might have pushed a bit of the indecent conversations that were taking place at 1AM in the morning!

EXCUSE FOR OUR GUESTS TO BEHAVE INDECENTLY #2 - THE FANTASTIC WINE This one is a no brainer, give your guests bottles and bottles of delicious wine and see what they start talking about, go on, do it and report back to me, I am sure it won’t be anything remotely close to PG13 conversations.

The “Why the hell not I may never see these people again” syndrome is a reoccurring theme at our dinners. There is something about eating in the comfort of a home yet in the midst of total strangers that makes people open up, let loose, relax and shed some ego. This syndrome manifests in different ways, sometimes through tears, sometimes through singing, this time it was through uncontrollable laughter and indecent conversations.

So let’s give our guests a break and thank them, really thank them, for letting us let go a little, live a little, and forget about the world and its complicated issues.

Oh and yes, in case you are still thrown off by the title of the post, there was indeed an alien among us. One of our guests confessed that his work visa described him as “an alien with extraordinary abilities”. This guest is also half Jewish, so you can draw your own conclusions as to the second half of the title.

Due to popular requests... here is our resident alient

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Worth Kitchen's Take on Italian... But Not Traditional

We were taking some time to let the food inspire us. Its usually the best way to have the recipes come to life. So there we are, walking through Chelsea Market, browsing all the stores, looking at the food, searching for inspiration. As we walk into Buon Italia, we see the truffles, the frozen foie gras, the fresh pasta, the delicious cheeses, and right there the theme for the night was born. We need to take on Italian, but in a nontraditional way. And in keeping with the theme, in a very non traditional way, Tamy created the entire menu. From start to finish she designed all of the plates and even the ingredients. The Worth Kitchen Sous Chef created her first full dinner. This might not sound like big news to you, but 6 months ago she didn't even know how to heat up a soup in the microwave! I am very proud of her and her incredible menu, so I present to you the Worth Kitchen take on Italian.

Three pasta shells were stuffed with eggplant, hot Italian sausage and goat cheese. It was seasoned with basil, rosemary, and most important, an extremely fragrant truffle salt. In the center was a concentrated tomato sauce prepared with shallots, garlic, olive oil, red wine and garnished with basil. This dish is a must repeat!
Adding the last detail to the entree, drizziling warm olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the sauteed butternut squash cubes.
The entree consisted of an Angus Silver Point roast cooked in the oven for 45 minutes and covered in rosemary, salt and pepper; a stuffed mini eggplant with mozzarella basil and truffle salt, and sauteed and browned butternut squash with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Tamy serves the wine to the guests as we prepare to enjoy the dinner. You might notice in the background a couple of people that do not have food in front of them. Well this is due to the fact that they literally crashed the party. We loved it (they are good friends of ours). There was no food for them, but that was not a problem for as they had already eaten. They joined us for about 30 minutes until they retired for the night.
The dessert was a chocolate mascarpone mousse stuffed in a mini apple. On top a homemade whipped cream. The apple was so small that we decided to add an additional serving of chocolate... well also because it was so good. The trick for this dessert was to use semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet, very rich yet delicious. Want the recipe for this? Shoot me an email. Very easy to make.
One fun additional anecdote from this week was that there were 2 alumni of both my high school and college. Alex studied in my high school (graduated 4 years before me) and Liza, our featured "stranger" of the week whom we meet on Twitter, happened to be a fellow Hoya. Very fun coincidence, just to add another theme to the dinner.

I want to extend a very warm "Thank You" to our guests this week: Karen, Lalo, Alex & Liza. We had a great time with all of you. It was a great night.