I’m back to cooking. I have been on an extended vacation from the kitchen, ever since the knifing incident. We have now made up, my knife and I, back to being close friends. Well, on my part, anyway. He (it’s a he) remains cold and aloof. Yet I persist...
An update on my recovery – it turns out fingers are not at all like lizard tails. They do not grow back. I have a flat top, a plateau on the side of my finger that never filled in, never came back after I sliced it off (eww). It takes some staring to see the mark but it’s there, in all its hardcore-cook glory.
This comeback started with a paragraph. Something that resembles foie gras? I was committed to making it from the title. Grilled avocados are not something I have tried, or even heard of before (although Rachael is daring enough to deep-fry them - am jealous of her boldness).
Upon grilling, the avocados turned into a warm, firm custard with a seared crust. The tacos were light and citrusy, melted and firm at the same time - a fitting re-introduction to the kitchen.
Comeback Fish Tacos
White fish fillets (I used tilapia, but I think any firm fish would do)
One ripe avocado, thickly sliced
Grated cheese, jack or cheddar
Hot sauce of choice
- Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper, squirt with juice of one lime per two fillets, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss avocado slices with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lime juice.
- Grill the avocado and the fish on white hot grill pan, or better yet, an actual grill.
- Cook both on one side till the fish releases easily from the grill, about 4 minutes). Turn over and grill on the other side, another 2 minutes or so, until the fish is opaque and flakes readily.
- This is totally cool - warm corn tortillas directly on the flame or electric element, flipping the tortilla once it starts to bubble and turn brown on the edges. This should only take about 30 seconds. Californians, please feel free to correct me.
- Pull fish and avocado off the grill, squirt with juice of the second lime.
- Assemble the tacos – fish, avocado slice, chopped cilantro, squirt of hot sauce, and cheese, if you would like, on top of tortilla (two if you want to be all authentic like). Serve with wedge of lime.
P.S. I do find it amazing that I made, photographed, and ate fish tacos all in about a half hour. Cooking time short, recovery time not - my house smelled like fish for two days. When oh when will I have a grown up exhaust hood. The one I have now is really working the placebo effect – it roars and struggles but accomplishes nothing at all.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
... If you can't spell, pronounce, or otherwise identify it, DON'T EAT IT
... If two or more of its ingredients cannot be obtained in non-powdered form,
... In other words, if your food is not made of food,
DON'T EAT IT
This orange creamsicle cake monstrosity assaulted me with a most pungent chemical aroma. I was at least three feet away. It smelled like orange-clean-your-toilet-bowl spray. I gagged. Really. I did. Then I had to get in close to get a picture. I put my olfactory neurons on the line for my journalistic (food-alistic?) integrity. Hope you can all appreciate my sacrifice.
Check out what I can only assume to be trans-fat globules on the corrugated tin material of the container. Gag.
I am done ranting now. Thank you for your time and attention.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The following is the first of what I hope to be a series of interviews with Boston area chefs.
Meet Chef Josh. Chef Josh runs the kitchen at the Washington Square Tavern in Brookline, one of my favorite restaurants. The focus at the Tavern is on seasonal American bistro food and great wine. Josh has worked and trained at The Elephant Walk, Mistral, and the Federalist - a rather impressive roster. He was kind enough to take 40 minutes of his time to humor me and speak into my little voice recorder.
Thank you, Jonathan, for facilitating and chaperoning the interview. I am much obliged.
Thank you, Josh, for your time and patience. It was a fun afternoon. And long(ish) evening.
Here we go.
A: Do you yell?
Chef Josh: No.
A: Not a yeller?
CJ: No, not a yeller. Once, maybe twice a year.
A: Were you yelled at when you were training?
CJ: Yes, that’s why I don’t yell.
A: If you were to have your very own restaurant, what would it be like?
CJ: It would probably be similar to this place. Small, American bistro food, wine, beer. There would not be burgers on the menu.
A: You hate burgers?
CJ: I don’t actually hate burgers, I hate cooking them. I’ll eat them.
A: How do you come up with something new for the menu? What is the process? Do you make it at home a few times?
CJ: I usually spend the owner’s money and make it here [at the restaurant]. Usually specials - try it as a special, see how it works, what the feedback is, and go from there. Every dish is pretty much the same, meat/protein, vegetables, starch, sauce, done. Just different combinations of that.
Jonathan: Do you wish the menu changed more often?
CJ: No! I could not come up with ideas. Every two months is a lot. I’ve never worked any place else where the menu changes as much. There are like 8 seasons according to this place.
CJ: Probably four times a year. Most places I worked, that’s what it was. Some things never change, like the burger. I don’t even have to cook those. It still bothers me. Last night a table of four, four adults, grown ups, came in for dinner. I am looking out, think “Oh they’re drinking wine, maybe they’ll get some fish.” Four burgers. And these people are like forty. Look, I’ll eat a burger too but if you go out on a Saturday night, splurge a little bit, you know, get a steak. You don’t need a sandwich. You can have that at home.
A: Grown-ups don’t eat sandwiches?
CJ: No, they do, but have you ever gone out with your parents and they say I’ll have aaaaa sandwich for dinner. [Me: Uuhh, no]. We get people that come in here [and say] “I love the food here. You do a great job… I get the burger every time.“ Huh? Wha? I’ll go get the guy who makes the burgers and you can tell him.
A: You didn’t go to culinary school, right?
CJ: No, I didn’t. I have just been doing this a long time, working in restaurants, delis. Started out washing dishes… sob story… without a dishwashing machine. I have done everything, which is nice because I wouldn’t ask any of these people that I work with to do anything that I haven’t done. Maybe that’s why I don’t yell. It’s pretty easy when you’re not washing dishes.
A: So you learned all the techniques just through working?
CJ: I learned a lot at the Elephant Walk, a little at Mistral, a little at the Federalist. Learned a lot here just messing around with stuff. When you’re a line cook and you just show up and everything is done for you every day, your station is all set up, everything is cut up, all your sauces are done, and you just go, cook, and leave. It’s hard to pick things up that way. Yeah, I learned a lot… Learn something from everybody if you want to.
A: There is always a trendy food. Do you follow the food trends?
CJ: No, I don’t know. What’s trendy right now? Am I out of it? Am I in it? No, I don’t really care. I don’t follow it. I don’t ever plan on foaming anything unless it’s a latte. No foam, no tapas, whatever the next hot thing is.
A: What’s you wish list for next round of menus?
CJ: Foam, of course foam. I don’t want to say starch free, but I am sick of potatoes. Really light summer stuff. No more mashed potatoes, I don’t want roasted potatoes. I am kind of sick of starch so I hope they let me get away with some starch-less dishes, salad, green vegetables, light and clean.
CJ: Searing seems to be the way. We have two stations. It’s either sauté or grill, so I would say searing is pretty constant, and then pan sauce is a pretty constant thing.
A: What won’t you ever eat, ever?
CJ: It’s the worms, it’s the way they fish it now. It’s no longer harpooned, it’s all long lined and the fish drowns. I don’t like it. I don’t like the meat, I don’t like to cut it, clean it, nothing about it appeals to me. [Face contorted with active disgust]. I think that’s the only thing I will never eat.
P.S. Lesson learned? Think twice about ordering a burger at a nice restaurant. The chef may take offense. Rightfully.
P.P.S. Interviewing people is hard! I have a new-found respect for Jay Leno. In the interest of, well, interest, I moved some stuff around in the interview, cut things out, nothing ethically or morally challenging, but just enough to make it readable. Bear with me, I hope to get better as I go along.
Friday, June 15, 2007
It’s just an egg, right? Nothing special or unusual, right?
Yes, eggs are an everyday affair, found at every greasy spoon and haute cuisine brunch place in the country. Eggs don’t take much thought, they are the every day. Yet, there is so much you can do with them, from soufflé to lemon curd, from breakfast to lunch and dinner (and that post-booze meal at 3AM), boiled, scrambled, poached, fried, baked… the list goes on. In addition to their versatility, their ease, availability, high protein content, and frankly attractive architecture, I find myself attracted to their ritual. I have an egg ritual. To be more specific, I have a sunny-side up egg ritual.
I remember sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table when I was really little, maybe 6 or 7 years old, with the shiny eye of a sunny-side up egg staring up at me from the plate. I wasn’t crazy about eggs. They were just eggs… nothing mysterious, nothing special, nothing to covet… until my uncle sat down next to me and taught me how to respect and eat them properly. He made eggs a multi-step process, a game and a ritual to be adhered to and appreciated. I think it was one of my very first experiences of savoring food, of stopping to think about what I was eating and what made it special. Twenty-ahem years later, I have taken that lesson to, arguably, an extreme. I have held onto the ritual.
The Egg Ritual, slightly adapted to my 20-ahem year-old self.
• You get your sunny-side up eggs to your plate.
• You sprinkle salt all over them (the pepper is a recent, grown up addition of mine).
• You eat from the outside in.
• You see, the white is just the moat around the yolk castle. You have to get through it before reaching the prize at the end, the silky, glossy yolk center.
• You can eat all around the yolk, you can approach it, skirt it, but never poke it! Not until it's time.
• Once you have made your way to the yolk, once all you have left on your plate is that yellow hemisphere, once you have stared at and admired it for a good long while, once you have armed yourself with a piece of bread, go ahead…
nick the thin membrane holding the yolk in and let it soak up into the bread.
• Swirl the bread around till you get as much yolk as you can onto that very first piece.
• Get the soaked bread to your mouth without wasting any of the yolk on your lap, chin, or favorite shirt. Feel the yolk squish out of the bread, pay attention to its viscosity and its richness. Think about it, appreciate the every day.
My uncle now has another six year old of his own. I can only hope she starts to like eggs soon.
P.S. What’s really disconcerting about this story is that my uncle was way younger than I am right now when he taught me the egg ritual. He must have been, what? 23? 24? Crazy! Five bucks says he has no recollection of what I am talking about.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
My reviews of restaurants around MIT for Nature Network Boston are up! This set was more extensively tweaked by the editor than the previous ones... I don't know why. I don't think I was particularly rambunctious in my write-ups, but perhaps she wanted them to sound more grown up. I am not terribly good at sounding grown up.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Everything is better on a boat. Drinking is more fun on the water, food tastes better, rest is more restful. Sleeping on a gently rocking boat, with the rigging ringing upon soft impact with the mast and shrouds is unlike anything else. It is calming, soothing, and quiet. So calm and so very quiet. Usually.
Not so much this last weekend. This was more The Perfect Storm than The Blue Lagoon. It was absolutely miserable. I helped a friend move his sailboat (Libby Lou) from a harbor in East Boston to its summer home in Marion. A two hour car ride took a day and a half in a boat… kind of makes you wonder how anything got done in a reasonable amount of time 400 years ago.
I was very excited about this trip. I upended my schedule, ditched an interview that I have been looking forward to for ages (more on that next week!), and decided to screw off work for yet another day. What was meant to be a leisurely jaunt along coastal New England turned out to be a soaking wet, freezing cold, angry ocean nightmare. A day and a half on Libby Lou (past its prime, that boat. They really tend to go downhill after the third decade) in driving rain, 40 degree temperature, 5 foot swells and 20 knot winds (gusting to 30)… really not at all fun.
I clicked my heels together for two days and chanted “there is no place like home” under my breath but nothing changed, nothing happened, unless you count getting hit by yet another rolling wave... which made me sick. I have never EVER been sick on a boat before. Never, not in all my sailing years (all four of them). Never until this weekend. I have never missed home more in my life.
I stumbled into my apartment on Monday afternoon in a cold and nauseous stupor and ran straight into a hot shower, which rocked suspiciously under my feet. My whole body hurt. I reeked of motor oil (old boats can’t hold their liquor). I was starving.
I did not make anything creative, stupendous, unusual, or involved. I made what was fastest and importantly, freshest (not so much with the perishables on this particular sailing adventure). Creamy ripe avocado mixed with sweet and softly crunchy corn was summery, citrusy, refreshing, clean, and practically therapeutic. I hope not to forever associate this corny avocado with my Libby Lou trip. I would rather remember it as cooling and comforting.
Thank-the-Lord-I-am-home Avocado and Corn Salad
1 ripe avocado, cubed
2 cobs-worth of cooked corn kernels
a but load of lime juice (or the juice of 2 limes)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, lightly packed
cayenne, salt, and pepper to taste
Mix all and pile on crackers or bread, while experiencing swells (pun intended) of appreciation for a warm, comfortable, welcoming home, with not an ocean in sight.
P.S. There were happy moments during the weekend, of course: