Archive for March, 2011
Hand in hand with the Culinary school question is the other question we get often asked and in fact, there is almost not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t stop me in one of the restaurants, or some friend of a friend doesn’t send me an email that asks: How do I get started in the food business? I love to cook, I want to own my own restaraunt someday, how do I do it? Well. first off I tell them DON’T!!! Don’t nurture that desire, don’t fan that fire, don’t”! What alot of people don’t understand is that the restaurant business is HARD.
I have a friend that is always joking with me when once in a while I steal away for a couple of hours in the afternoon (shh!) to see a movie, that it must be nice to be the boss. And sometimes it is.
As rents, food cost, labor, insurance, electric bills rise, profits and stability decline. The ebbs and flows of the restaurant business are hard to get through. There is constant worry about bills to pay, health department inspections to get through and the turnover in help is astounding. Just because an employee has faithfully shown up for work every day, on time for the last 6 years, doesn’t mean that he will show up on the day of the big catering job. He will tell you he was sick when in fact he was hung over. When you ask why he didn’t call, he will say he didn’t have the number. You take him back, give him a warning and vow the next time will be the last time. But it won’t be. It can’t be. Employees that want to work the long hours on their feet 6 days a week and can make the perfect omelet 300 times out of 300 times are hard to come by and both you and he know it.
If you can’t imagine yourself in a cubicle for up to 8 hours a day. If sitting still was never your forte. If you like to be so busy you hyperventilate and don’t know how to get done all that you have to do. maybe, just maybe, the restaurant biz is for you after all. It is a business that is multi-faceted and almost never boring. One minute you might be slinging hash behind the line and the next you might be talking to a customer who thought their eggs were too well done. And if you do open your own restaurant the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you kow how to do it all. I guarantee that one day you will find yourself icing a cake while the next you might be unclogging a toilet! There will not pass a day without some sort of crisis. It doesn’t happen. But that is part of what makes this business so exciting. You never know what to expect.
Which leads me to what I think is the most accurate portrayal I have seen so far of the restaurant business. KITCHEN COFIDENTIAL by Anthony Bourdain. I highly recommend it. You will laugh, you will be shocked and it will either convince you to follow your dream or it will make you run screaming in the other direction.
I have mentioned in an earlier post that my love of food and its preparation started very young.
One of my fondest memories is Saturday morning shopping with my father. This was a wonderful ritual that he and I shared. Long before the “green movement” came into play we had a large green vinyl bag that we would take on our shopping ventures. My father and I would get up very early on Saturday morning and head out to the push carts in the North End of Boston. All the shop keepers would have either flat tables on wheels of actual push carts fasten with umbrellas placed in front of the Italian grocerers in the “Little Italy” section of Boston. We would walk up and down the isles stopping at the stalls to buy thinly sliced mortadella studded with pistachios and black peppercorns, a wedge of genoa salami and homemade sausages. We would buy large chunks of imported provolone which was wonderfully salty and had a perfect sharpness. We would buy tomatoes from the produce cart and freshly baked semolina bread from the bread man. We methodically walked up and down choosing the items we would bring home and have for lunch. I remember the delicious smells from all the hanging meats and Italian pastries. The beautiful ripe melons and the sweet smell of sun drenched grapes.
We would shop until the green bag was brimming with fruits, meats and cheeses.
I remember the drive home in our giant aqua blue and white station wagon, affectioinately named Betsy.The smells were wafting from the back seat. My mother would be at home with the table set waiting for us to arrive with all our goodies.We would lay out our push cart feast and we would all sit down to a scrumtious lunch.
I love to remember back on these times as it was not only a special time for my father and I but it was also another sharing of our mutual love of food.
Three Springs ago Ann and I ventured on a “field research project” to Paris. By field research, I of course mean, we ventured on a 4 day eating trip to the most delicious place we knew. We planned and plotted our every meal. Nary a museum did we see. Every bite we took, every meal we ate had been carefully thought out. We walked from one end of the city to the other to visit the perfect open food market and sample cheese or fresh fruit or rotisserie chicken with roast potatoes. We went to brasseries and bistros and consumed as much street food as we could–crepes, sandwich, glaces. We tried croissants and baguettes in every boulangerie we saw. Ann did most of the planning. I was more than happy to go along for the ride.
On our last day in Paris, I could just walk no further. We had spent the morning shopping (our other favorite French past time) and we were exhausted. Ann had a particular lunch place in mind, way across the entire city. I begged, I pleaded and I cajoled and finally she agreed to stop at this corner cafe instead of trapsing across town. She was not happy to be spending our next to last meal at this unknown entity. We sat down and ordered, croque monsieurs with some frites, just to be safe. Well. Need I say more? What was brought to us was the best croque monsier that either one of us had ever had. It was made on big oval peasant bread and it was stuffed with the perfect amount of gruyere, ham and bechamel. The top was browned to the ultimate crusty goodness. We are still talking about it to this day.
Last week we went to Bar Boulud for lunch. This is a New York City restaurant that has been touted as having the best croque monsieur in the city. We sat, we perused the menu, we ordered the much anticipated croque. When it came we were skeptical. It was made on the more traditional square white bread and it sat alone, unadorned on the plate. We also ordered frites, but they hadn’t arrived yet. Ann cut it in half. Still skeptical we both took a bite and OMG! It was fabulous. It oozed cheese and bechamel and the ham was house cured. The top was so perfectly brown and crusty it crackled when you cut it. The frites were good too, but that was to be expected. We were instantly transported to that cafe in Paris, a cafe we will never visit again because we do not remember where it was, but a cafe whose memory is still in the forefront of our thoughts.
So, if you want to bit of Paris in New York, steal yourself away for lunch one day and try the Croque Monsieur at Bar Boulud. You won’t be sorry.
Now you might think after the most perfect of lunches we would stop there and be totally satified, but we thought we would just peek at the dessert menu and see if there was anything that would tempt us. Tempted we were, so much so we ordered A Salted Caramel Tart. What arrived at our table was a large wedge of soft caramel heaven encrusted with a dark chocolate crust and a slightly burnt lacey caramel topping. Now say it with us……..SUBLIME. Both of us looked at each other and with expressions of pure delight. The buttery thick salted caramel paired with the chocolate and covered with the burnt sugar was the perfect ending to an already perfect meal. We left there knowing that Bar Boulud would see us very soon for a return visit.
My daughter , Lottie who is only 9 is a full fledge foodie. Since I can remember my daughter has opted to eat Miso soup instead of Chicken Noodle. She will choose Spicy Thai noodles instead of unsauced pasta . I am not a believer in “Kid’s Food”. Why have we decided the only thing kids will eat is chicken fingers and french fries, or spaghetti with no sauce or an overcooked tasteless hamburger? I take my daughter anywhere and everywhere to eat. She gets lots of stares and comments when a plate of raw oysters are placed in front of her and she skillfully spoons on her mignonette sauce and slurps the oyster into her mouth.
She adores trying new things. The more pungent the taste the better she likes it.
Our plans are to go to Paris next spring. I am so excited to introduce her to the marvels of Parisian cuisine. The first time that she bites into a Pain au Chocolat and experiences the flakiness and buttery dough and gets a big chuck of dark chocolate. To have her indulge in a charcuterie plate paired with baguettes and butter. I have no doubt that her culinary senses will come alive and just like me , Paris will soon become a place she will want to go back to many many times.
My daughter and I love to bake together. We have a large vegetable garden and we use the zucchini to make wonderful loaf cakes studded with walnuts and raisins. We use our imagination and make every kind of ice cream that we can come up with. I think there is nothing more satisfying than to share my love of food and cooking with my daughter and to experience the budding passion she is discovering.
Lottie is learning the enjoyment of cooking for others. She loves when people come to our house to enjoy a home cooked meal. Whether it is an outdoor barbeque or a holiday dinner she loves the mixing of food and friends.
Children learn from example, share new foods with your children. The world of interesting and delicious foods awaits them.
We get questioned almost everyday by either a customer or an employee about Culinary school, if we think it is an important career move and if so, which Culinary schools are good ones. Ann is self taught so she would probably tell you that it is not necessary to go to school but here is my answer to that popular question:
The restaurant business and cooking per se have become very “in vogue”. No one will hire you without experience and you can’t get experience because no one will hire you! It is not like 20 years ago when employers would give a novice a chance. There is too much at stake now. Rents are too high, expenses are too high and food cost is too high. It just costs too much to train someone these days. Now, don’t get me wrong, with the skills you learn in cooking school and $2.25 you can ride the subway. And that is about it. BUT! It does give you the head start you will need for a long productive career in the restuarant biz.
I went to the French Culinary School and was the 2nd or 3rd class to graduate at the then new and innovative Culinary school. I spent 8 hours a day for 6 months learning how to jullienne, brunoise and make a good consomme. Then at night for extra credit, I would stay late and make canapes that sat on glass mirror trays. In between canapes we would go to Amsterdam’s next door for a quick drink, come back buzzed and make more canapes. Chefs tend to drink a lot, and back then I was no exception. Guess how many times I have made consomme since then? You guessed it! Zero. But it was a good experience and it taught you to work hard and be organized. It demonstrated what the environment and temperment of a restaurant might be like. It also tended to weed out the people who were not really serious restaurant people.
Today, there are many choices of Culinary school. My advice is to pick one that best fits your lifestyle without turning your world upside down. One that is not too expensive, that you can finish in a relatively short period of time and one that has a good job placement department.
And remember, it is a hard profession, and that is something, I think many people don’t realize. There are long hours on your feet, you work late into the night and often start early in the morning. Weekends are no longer your own. It is a calling of sorts and if you are really meant to be in the restaurant you will know it. There is a satisfaction at the end of a good day that rivals no other. You are mentally and physically exhausted and exhilarated at the same time The only thing left to do is sleep, get up the next morning and do it all over again!
A friend and I were talking about food one day and she offered up one of the best lines I had ever heard . She remarked ” I have never met a potato I did not like” I agree whole heartily. Whether it is a heaping mound of perfectly fried French fries, or creamy mashed potatoes or crispy hash browns, how could anyone not be totally in love. When I think about so many of the recipes that I have developed over the years so many of them are an ode to potatoes.
Several years ago we were lucky enough to be featured in The New Times for our Potato Pancakes. As you can well imagine we were thrilled for the publicity from such a well reknowned newspaper. Little did we know that the flood gates would open and the orders would come pouring in. We did not have a fryer to make these 500 pancakes. We fried and we fried each one until all these pancakes were a lovely crispy golden brown. I can honestly say that as much as the recognition was wonderful I am glad Chanukah is but once a year!
My mother was a big believer in the healing powers of a bowl of freshly made mashed potatoes. I can say that she was not wrong and often times even today when I am feeling a little under the weather I crave a helping of mashed potatoes. The truth is that mashed potatoes are a tried and true food. People 50 years ago loved mashed potatoes and people 50 years from now will love them as well.
Potatoes are sometimes seen as the poor relation, plain, not so attractive , without much pizazz but the wonderful thing about them is that they can be transformed into something truly sublime.
It is hard to pick out just one recipe to be a tribute to potatoes but I have decided to pass on Kitchenette’s Mashed Potato recipe. They will make you feel better when you are sick and happy when you are well.
Serves about 8 people.
5 to 6 pounds Idaho potatoes
Fill a large bowl with cold water and a pinch of salt.
Cutting out blemishes first, peel potatoes.
Cut the potatoes evenly into eighths; as each potato is cut, place it in the cold water.
When ready to cook, drain and place potatoes in a large pot or stockpot and cover with fresh water with salt.
Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer potatoes 20 to 3 minutes, or until very tender when pierced with a fork.
Return potatoes to cooking pot and allow to cool for only 5 minutes, or they will become sticky.
Mash potatoes with potato masher.
When mashed, push potatoes to one side of the pot.
Dent the potatoes in several places with a spoon handle to allow steam to escape (this helps to lighten the potatoes.)
Add half & half or milk, butter, salt and pepper to the empty half of the pot.
Place pot over medium heat until butter is melted and milk is scalding.
Remove pot from heat and stir all ingredients with a wooden spoon vigorously to combine.
With college behind me and $2000.00 in my pocket (this was many many years ago), I did as many kids did and as I hope my children will do. I got on a plane and headed to Europe. I planned to go as far as my $2000.00 would take me. First stop: Paris. I never ventured anywhere else.
Recounting that year in Paris brings up mixed emotions. Parts of it I can remember like it was yesterday. I still get that homesick feeling in my stomach as I remember my time spent in the most wonderful city of the world. Paris is a city of senses. Smell – a cafe creme mixed with cigarette smoke wafting from the corner cafe, even the musky smell of the metro, and of course, the indelible scent of those freshly baked baguettes. Taste – creamy camembert, caramel saturated Tarte Tartin, Salad Frisee aux lardons. Sight – see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night from across the city and you will see what I mean. Touch – the goose bumps you feel from the singular beauty that the City of Love insights. I could go on and on.
Upon landing at Charles de Galle, I head to this little tiny hotel on Rue Cler. All I could afford was a small room with a bathroom down the hall. A shower was 7 francs. I didn’t shower every day. Couldn’t afford to. Every morning I would practice my non-existent French with the owner of the hotel, a typical round peasant French woman who in between babbling in a language I didn’t understand, would bring me steaming bowls of cafe au lait and baguettes slathered with butter and confiture. My days were spent walking the city. From the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero to the small winding streets in the Latin Quarter….Time went quickly and before you know it I had a full life in Paris! I couldn’t believe it. I had landed a job baking cheesecakes in a Jewish deli run by 3 brothers who didn’t have a clue about how to run a restaurant. They had absolutely no idea what was in cheesecake, let alone how to make it. But it was on the menu and I baked it. And from that moment on and until his death many years later, my father boasted that I single handedly introduced cheesecake to the Parisians. And I don’t know, maybe I did.
Eventually I moved out of that hotel on Rue Cler and into an apartment with another American girl. I made lots of friends, I had a French boyfriend, I took French classes on Blvd Raspail. Everything French. We went out for long 3 course dinners, drank lots of cheap wine which in Paris actually tastes good and spoke or argued in French with however would listen that day. Eventually, the 3 brothers at the deli split up, I was out of a job and became disenchanted with the boyfriend. Friends had already started going home and suddenly it was time for me to go home too. So as impulsively as I had picked up and moved to Paris is as impulsively as I left Paris. Once home, I missed Paris so much that I couldn’t see French movies, eat French food or utter a single French word. I didn’t go back for many years. Just couldn’t.
Since that time I have been back to Paris often and each time I am amazed that it feels like I am going home. The smells are the same smells that I loved so much and it is still the most breath taking and beautiful place I have ever been. It is comforting and I will always pick Paris over any other place in the world.
Two years ago I was ready to show My Paris to my husband and 2 children. And I think I had them at Bonjour. As I ordered Poulet Roti at a Charcuterie in my garbled attempt at a language that I once spoke quite well, my son looked at me in amazement and asked “Who are you? I don’t know you at all!”. In that instant, I was compelled to share that year of my life that had up until that moment, been all mine. And it felt good.
In keeping with the French theme, here is our Creme Brulee Recipe…
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
9 egg yolks
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Beat the egg yolks, 4 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl until creamy.
Pour cream into a saucepan and stir over low heat until it almost comes to boil.
Remove the cream from heat immediately.
Stir cream into the egg yolk mixture- beat until combined.
Pour mixture into the top of a double boiler.
Stir over simmering water until mixture lightly coats the back of a spoon- about 3 minutes.
Remove from heat immediately and pour into a shallow dish.
Place in a water bath.
Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate for 1 hour (or overnight.)
Preheat the oven to broil.
Sprinkle sugar evenly over custard.
Place dish under broiler until sugar melts, about 2 minutes.
Be careful to watch so that it does not burn.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until custard is set again.
Throughout my culinary career I have had several opportunities to go head to head with classically trained chefs. Since I am self taught I have often felt less qualified to play in the big kids yard, until one day I was in food competition that was being judged by Master Chefs from the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. It was a 3 course meal with judging on appetizer, entree and dessert. I knew the rest of the competitors would show their skills with lots classic cooking techiniques. I stayed true to who I am and cooked a quinessential Amercian meal. Corn Chowder, Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. I made Apple Crisp for dessert. After much pomp and circumstance, I got 3 rd place for my chowder, recognition for my entree( was told I had lumps in mashed potatoes) but assured the judge that was intentional and had one of the pastry instructors from the Culunary ask me for my recipe for the Apple Crisp. So I leave you with this question. Is a Picasso better than a Monet? or is a wonderfully baked blueberry muffin any less than a Duck a la Orange? I think not. Each has its own distinct beauty. I include the recipe for the best blueberry muffin in the world .
Makes about 12 divine blueberry muffins.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins with paper liners.
8 tablespoons sweet butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar, plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon, mixed for topping
Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until thoroughly mixed but still lumpy.
Add the egg and vanilla, beating until smooth with a wooden spoon.
Gradually add the milk, stirring well to combine.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, then fold the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring just enough to incorporate.
With a metal spoon, stir in the blueberries in a figure 8 motion- this prevents the blueberries from breaking open and bleeding.
Divide the batter among the 12 lined muffin tins, filling each to the top. Sprinkle each with a portion of the sugar mixture.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
2 tablespoon dried yeast
¼ cup tepid water
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
¼ tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
Flour for biscuit cutter
Melted butter to brush the biscuit tops.
Dissolve yeast with pinch of sugar in tepid water.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in large mixing bowl.
Cut in the shortening until it resembles coarse meal and add yeast mixture.
Add buttermilk and bring dough together with your hands in a light kneading movement .
Place dough on lightly floured surface and pat down to 1 to 1 1/3 inch thickness.
Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter and try to handle the dough as least as possible.
If you like soft biscuits crowd together on sheet pan when baking. If you like crusty biscuits then bake far enough apart so that they don’t touch.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until tops turn golden brown, after baking brush the tops with melted butter.
Waiting to feel inspired to post my first writing on our new blog hasn’t exactly worked out so I will plunge ahead, uninspired and anxious. Anxious about the fact that I know not what to write and uninspired because unlike Ann, no early cooking memories come to mind. Even staring at an early photograph of myself intently stirring a bowl of something, brings nothing to mind. So, let’s consider this my first entry, the next one will be better for sure.
Look for some of Kitchenette’s customer requested recipes in the very near future. And if there is a specific recipe or some specific information you would like to ask or know about us, please let us know.
Lisa, the other and more silent half of Kitchenette