Saturday, July 28, 2007

My first gig

So I'm really late in writing this. A couple of weeks ago one of the co-workers in the supper club asked if I would prepare dinner for her and a friend. I agreed. I was so excited. Someone valued my abilities enough to pay for them. I struggled with the price, only to have her add $50 because she felt I was pricing myself too low. God is so good.

I felt the evening went fine. It would have been perfect if I had a separate dining room. I refused to wake up to a filthy kitchen on Monday morning, so I handled the dishes as they ate. It wasn't the intimate setting I'd hoped to create, but it was still OK.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Salad w/ Balsamic Vinaigrette

Spicy Broccolini
Brandied Mushrooms
Spice-Rubbed Salmon
Raspberry Lemon Sorbet

This is my calling. I stressed over having a white-glove clean home for the event, but the cooking was a joy. I even identified the need for a couple of new gadgets. I especially loved setting the table. I am the girl who dreamed about tea parties. I love the opportunity to break out good napkins. If I would only purchase some chargers ...

Hopefully, this is the start of something big. I don't want to work in a restaurant, my legs and feet can't take the standing. I want to be a personal chef on call -- ring me when you have small, special events. My first client is now working on a business plan that will do just that.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Advertures In Cake Decorating

I finished the Wilton Course I class tonight, It's the second time I've taken it and it seems to have clicked this time. I can make a pretty decent rose! My sweet peas were cute too. I remember being so frustrated the first time I took the courses.

I just have to try to practice. The problem is I tend to eat the mistakes. I will try to do better!
It's amazing how much pleasure I got from making flowers with icing, even if I didn't get to eat them. They weren't perfect, but the still showed I have potential.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Strange Bird

My family reunion was here in Chicago last week. I've been hosting people since Wednesday. For the last two days, there have been six people plus me in my apartment. I have not been handling it well. There are people and stuff everywhere. After the way people complained about the perfectly al dente green beans the hotel prepared the night of our family auction, I decided to play it safe. For dinner tonight, we had grilled steak, chicken, broccoli, salad, baked potatoes and roasted carrots. My cousin and I made a devil's food cake with coffee icing earlier for desert. My brothers took care of the steak and baked potatoes. My younger brother actually came up with the menu. I tried to cater to their tastes. I overcooked the broccoli. I didn't use as much red pepper flake as usual. I made a very basic vinaigrette. Baby spring mixed greens, tomato, cucumber and an orange bell pepper were all that were in the salad. (Of course if it isn't swimming in ranch dressing, some people won't eat salad.) I used less rosemary than I normally would have on the carrots. The chicken was the same seasoning we grew up with at home, with the exception of smoked in place of regular paprika. After my sister-in-law practically cleaned her plate, she commented, "You are a strange bird." I asked what prompted that comment. "This food. ... I mean, I guess we should eat like this every day. But you. ... you cook like white people." How utterly hurtful. I waited until it wouldn't cause a scene and I quietly left the table. I had to write. I had to cry. How could I ever share my dreams with them? How would I ever talk to them about the excitement I get from supper club? How a co-worker paid me to fix a five-course upscale (I'm not gourmet yet) meal for her and a friend? I guess when I think about it, this is no different from everything else I don't share. I have not grown past my family, but I have grown around them. Thank God I have lived in different cites and had different experiences. When I have children, please don't let me pass on ignorance.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Retail Therapy

I am a planner, especially when it comes to entertaining. I do not like surprises in my home. Anyone is welcome, as long as we have a plan (and please don't change the plan). My family reunion is next week and I will have five family members staying in my two-bedroom apartment. My brother called Tuesday night to add a family friend. How-can-I-pull-this-off panic set in immediately. My beloved brother, who can flow with the wind, didn't understand my frustration.

I had just figured out how I was going to sleep six with one bed, a couch and an air matress last weekend. (The solution is an additional air matress). Now I have to figure out room for a seventh? I have about 1400 sq ft! Aaagh!!! Not to mention food for a crowd. Anxiety sets in with four. Six makes me extremely nervous. Seven feels like 15, but I'm sure I will manage.

After we hung up. I decided anger was worthless; my bother and I have different approaches. I understood his, but he didn't understand mine. I told myself that everything would be okay.

I was quite proud of my mature approach until I found myself plopping down $160 for the All-Clad 12" nonstick skillet. I needed to make eggs for a crowd! When stressed, I shop (usally for kitchen stuff), cook and eat. I told myself I was okay with the change, but I guess I wasn't.

Well, at least I didn't make a pizza!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Good chocolate gone to waste and waist

On Sunday, I made the icing for the difficult, but tasty chocolate cake. The icing was more challenging than the cake! Lesson learned: never make temperature sensitive items in a hot kitchen. It was worth the trouble. The icing was damn good -- like eating a truffle! It is unbelievably smooth and melts in your mouth. The chocolate flavor is very intense. I heightened it with an off-recipe addition of Starbucks Liqueur.

Now of course my best friend could not come back and pick up the cake before she left town, so I've had the joy of a completed chocolate cake staring me in the face when I open the refrigerator. The cake was beautiful. I got the icing really smooth (a first for me.) Alas, it was an after dinner treat that turned into breakfast. Now it's turned into the trash! I simply can't be trusted to eat responsibly.

All of that expensive Valrhona chocolate! Valrhona is my favorite. I taste a little raisin in it and it's super smooth. I usually keep a bar of the dark bittersweet (red label) on hand. I get mine from Trader Joe's, so I'm getting a small price break.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Getting It Out

I have entertained three times in two weeks. The first was a simple snack tray and dessert for a family meeting I hosted. I love to cook. I love to make people happy with food. I suck at preparing my home for guests.

I work in advertising and as of late, the work has been stressful and the days long. The more I get up and dread going to work, the more I know I'd rather be doing something with food, but that's another post. I am so tired when I come home, usually around 7 or later, the best I can manage is microwaving and falling asleep a few hours later. Needless to say, I cook for myself on Sunday and eat leftovers for lunch and dinner until the weekend. I now understand the birth of convenience foods.

On Saturdays, I wake up to a full dishwasher (never emptied it from Sunday night) and a week's worth of lunch containers and breakfast and dinner plates -- all rinsed, but not clean. Then there's the dusting and sweeping (hardwood floors). By the time I'm done with the weekly cleaning, I'm pressed for time for the cooking part! This is a guranteed occurance every time I invite guests over.

Family Meeting
The food was great. I made mint tea, hummus, pita chips and a lemon and pine nut tart. The platter was colorful (I added tomatoes, olives, feta, sliced yellow pepper and broccoli), but it didn't look professional. I still struggle with that. The tart was the most difficult. Pie dough defeats me every time, but I refuse to give up!

Supper Club
A few co-workers decided to create a supper club. I volunteered to host the first. We have 10 in the club, but only four were able to attend. I like the smaller number better. I had a pretty ambitious New Orleans menu:

  • Hurricanes

  • Seafood gumbo

  • Roasted sweet potatoes

  • Sauteed greens

  • Shrimp etoufee

  • Bread pudding w/ whisky sauce

  • Coffee and chickory

Everything was very flavorful and good, with the exception of the greens. They didn't have enough garlic or acid. They were just too bland. Lesson learned because I prepared these once the guests arrived, so I didn't give them my full attention. Next time, I will be more careful.

I just loved serving everything in courses. (This reminded me I needed to purchase some chargers.) I even used my real napkins. We had a lot of fun, in part because we drank hurricanes for two hours straight. I can't wait until the next one. The next host is thinking of Thai-Caribbean fusion ...

Visit From Best Friend
One of my best friends came to town for her husband's family reunion. Her two-year-old and teenager were also in tow. Because the nine hour drive took 13 hours, I took my time cleaning and cooking. (I even cleaned the baseboards.) I roasted a whole chicken on a broiler pan with seasoned potatoes underneath. The chicken was a bit complicated, but worth the trouble. I placed aromatics in the cavity, a compund butter under the skin and rubbed the outside of the skin with oil. (Kudos Cooks Illustrated) I sprinked salt, pepper and poultry seasoning on the outside. I sauteed frozen corn with shallot, turkey bacon, butter and sage. I steamed broccoli and tossed it with olive oil flavored with garlic, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Everyone had seconds!

I had a good kitchen helper. My friend's daughter just discovered cooking. She liked to chop and slice and she minded the broccoli. I shared some knife skills and let her practice on some celery. I really enjoy teaching people about the kitchen.

They were kind enough to wash the dishes. My next charge was to make the chocolate cake as requested by my friend. It was hard! It was midnight before we let the cakes cooled. That was a really involved recipe (thanks Cooks Illustrated)! Man, it was good. I goofed and left out 1/3 of the flour and it was still good. The frosting is difficult. I might attempt that today, although I've already sliced into the cake!