Monday, September 24, 2012

Brunch and I Have a Love/Hate Relationship...

Breakfast/brunch foods are by far some of my favorites. It's the time when seemingly anything is fair game when it comes to morning (or sometimes early afternoon) meals after a good night's rest—cereal, eggs, pancakes, bacon, pastries, rice, steak, juice, coffee, vodka (Bloody Mary) and even fried chicken. Pictured above and below is the birthday brunch I cooked for myself a few months ago—a veal chop with eggs and sweetened rice. The meat is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked until the desired temperature on the stove. For the sweetened rice, you finish a regular pot of rice with milk, butter, and sugar—doing so almost turns it into a rice pudding and is incredibly addictive. The rice acts as a sweet counterpart to the saltiness of the meat, which is then all balanced out by the richness added once you break into the golden egg yolk. Yum.

My relationship with this blessed mealtime has changed over the past few months since I began working in the restaurant. Weekend brunch is by far the busiest time in the restaurant in terms of the number of people served—we blew past the 250 mark yesterday and there are only three (sometimes four) cooks on the line pushing out food! In the beginning of my cooking career, fresh out of culinary school and (thinking I was) ready for anything, I got a big reality check about what cooking in a restaurant actually meant. Cooking a few delicious items for a couple of people to sit down and eat at home is one thing—serving multiple items for hundreds of people that come in throughout the day is a whole other beast. So needless to say, those first two months or so working in the restaurant were a bit of a learning experience...

Fast forward to today and the brunch shift isn't nearly as stressful as when I first started. It's still plenty stressful/hectic/busy—don't get me wrong—but thankfully I don't feel the need to drown my sorrows in a mix of blood, sweat, tears, booze, and fast food after every shift. Every now and then I even have enough energy to be a real person and do something after work! Yesterday was not one of those days. It was the end of a six day workweek (my first one at the restaurant) and I was pooped. I passed out around 8 p.m. and was wide awake by 4 a.m., hence my writing this post to pass the time. I hope the rest of you out there are currently experiencing a slightly more normal sleep schedule...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Plight with Fish

Salt and Pepper Seared Tuna Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli

I believe my fish allergy to be my one major impediment when it comes to food and my quest to become a Top Chef/Next Food Network Star/Iron Chef judge. And no, this isn’t one of those fake allergies that people claim to have (i.e. cilantro) when they really just don’t like it. My reaction can cause hives of face, mouth, and throat if ingested and tends to be very unpleasant. I can almost immediately tell if a dish contains an unwanted ingredient, even the likes of fish stock or even fish sauce. Now unlike most people with fish allergies, I am actually able to eat shellfish and other such creatures of the sea (i.e. shrimp, lobsters, scallops, mussels, octopi, etc.), but run into trouble with your more everyday sea creatures (i.e. salmon, trout, halibut, tilapia, catfish, etc.). I've been told I got the good end of the deal yet I feel like I am missing out on so much good food!

This proved to be a slight issue in culinary school when we were tasked with filleting and then preparing various underwater delectables. One of the mantras of culinary school is “taste everything,” and as you can see this may have been slightly difficult… Even when handling fish I would always need to use gloves or else my hands would start to itch. (Just the other day I was brazenly working with fish at the restaurant without gloves and ended up with hives all over my face—not fun.) I would taste all of the components on the plate that didn’t touch the fish, but I was never able to sample the complete and finished product to see—and taste—exactly how I had fared. By some miracle of God I was actually pretty good at the fish station. It all became  a science for me. I would watch the chef instructor intently to ingrain in my mind all of the cooking steps for each dish—like how much salt and pepper was used to season the fillet, and how long the sauce should cook to develop the right flavor. I can fairly confidently say that I can cook a piece of fish to perfection, but every now and then run into some trouble with the accompanying sauce and may have to outsource the taste-testing responsibilities to some gracious helper (they better have a good palette!). 

However, one thing that always intrigued me was my ability to safely eat tuna salad. My mom’s macaroni and tuna salad was one of my favorite meals/snacks as a child. I would devour the stuff any time it was made. It never really occurred to me that I was eating something that usually caused me pain until a couple of years ago, but then I thought it just may have had something to do with the fact it came from a can. One afternoon I decided to test this theory. While interning at Food Arts I went with the editor to a press event at Eataly where they where showing off their program highlighting various regions in Italy. They served us a three course meal complete with wine pairings, and the main course so happened to be tuna. Partly to test my tuna theory and partly to quell my hunger, I decided to put fork to mouth and see what happened… 

Nothing! I’ve been cured! Or rather, I think I may have found a fish I can eat. Some light research on the matter has taught me that it is often the case where there are certain species of fish that one with an allergy can safely consume, but there isn’t really a good way of discovering what they are other than trial and error. This new knowledge hasn’t led me to go out and buy up all the tuna I can find, but it has let me try a bite off another person's plate here and there to expose myself to more flavor profiles. (Plus, the taste of fish sometimes makes my stomach a little queasy after 20+ years of my usual reaction to it...)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pulled-Pork-A-Palooza



A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a "pork-inspired soiree" put on by the National Pork Board with Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan. I've lauded the beauties of pulled pork a couple of times before already (Exhibit A and Exhibit B) so this was naturally right up my alley. Pork shoulder (or butt depending on who you talk to) is an extremely budget-friendly cut of meat that is packed full of flavor. Yes, it does require a long time to reach the point of carnivorous nirvana, but it's not like you have to tend to it at all—instead you leave it alone in the oven or slow-cooker for a few hours and return to enjoy the fruits of your (very limited) labor. There are a myriad of uses, such as the grilled cheese above or the fried rice below. But don't let your imagination stop there! Throw it on some tortillas to make tacos; toss it in with some mixed greens, a nice salty cheese, and a fruity vinaigrette for a salad; and one of my favorites is serving it with polenta and a poached egg or two to make a delicious breakfast. Let your mind and stomach run wild and you'll be amazed by all the wonderful dishes you can create.