Stick a fork in me…

…Because I’m officially done with FCI.  After basically living within the walls of 462 Broadway for the past 2 years (plus a few days), I’ve officially said goodbye to the place that trained me to cook and gave me my first job after my career change.

This past weekend, I finished up my last job with FCI as the Guest Chef Coordinator for the New York Culinary Experience.  Months of planning culminated in an amazing (and exhausting) weekend where I not only ran around like a chicken with my head cut off to make sure that the Guest Chefs had what they needed for class, but I did so without much of a voice since true to being a disaster, I got terribly sick the week leading up to the event.

There was chaos, yelling (on the part of a particularly diva chef and her sous-chef), and crying (mostly on my part quietly in the corner of the storeroom), but in the end, it was the perfect capstone to my career at FCI.  Basically, every different division of the school, from the student volunteers to the Admissions department, worked together this weekend to make this event happen, and it warmed my heart in a cheesy girl scout kind of way – not that I was much of a girl scout, I think I made it to Brownies before I pulled a, “Bitch, peddle your own damn cookies” to my troop leader.  Of course, this weekend, I was more of the troop leader and my girl scouts were an army of student volunteers who helped me keep my sanity, most-likely preventing a hypoglycemic rage blackout on my part.  Basically, these student volunteers probably saved more than my life this weekend.

Butter-poached lobster tail on top of lobster coral (roe) pappardelle with sautéed veg. Incredible.

Butter-poached lobster tail on top of lobster coral (roe) pappardelle with sautéed veg. Incredible.

I also had the chance to witness Chef Jonathan Benno and his team from Per se teach a 2 hour class on using every part of the lobster, serve up multiple appetizer-sized tastings, bring with and cook their own lunch (Cuban sandwiches), all the while not making a single peep or showing any perceivable signs of stress.  Damn.  That’s freaking elite.  I don’t think they ever verbally communicated… maybe there was eye contact or SWAT-like hand signaling going on, or maybe, just maybe, they run like the freakishly efficient well-oiled machine that you would expect them to be.  Even if it was to be expected, witnessing their stealth and precise movements and harmonious interaction left me in complete awe.  My jaw would have been hanging to the ground if not for the fact that I had to chew the extra tastings that his team plated up for volunteers and staff in the kitchen.  Yeah, they had time for that, too.  Without FCI, I would never have witnessed something so unforgettable.  It was like an exit bonus, minus a whole lot of zeros.

Shhh - can you hear that? ... ... ... That's exactly what it sounded like as they plated 30 dishes with ridiculous speed and precision.

Shhh - can you hear that? ... ... ... That's exactly what it sounded like as they plated 30 dishes with ridiculous speed and precision.

After the frantic energy of this weekend, I spent a few quiet moments finishing up some work in a dark office Sunday night and it hit me all at once – FCI has been my home away from home for 2 years.  I’ve spent more time there than anywhere else since moving to NYC.  There have been amazing times, and then there have been terrible times, but in the end, I’m so happy and thankful for the friends that I’ve made and all the experiences that I’ve had.  Where else could I have become so completely addicted to cocktails (which I believe is called alcoholism…), Swedish meatballs, consommé, blogging, and the best damn baguette this side of the Atlantic?

This event represented the best of my time at FCI, and it made it both easy and difficult to say goodbye to the school.  You always want to go out on a good note, but going out on a good note sometimes makes you wish for more.  You know, like that perfect dessert that makes you want to stay and order just one more plate.

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The French-colonized part of me wants to put up the white flag

Oh. Dear. God. Somebody please make this week end.  When I decided to take on a job helping to organize guest chefs for the fabulous New York Culinary Experience event, I thought, “How bad could it be?”  That should have been my first clue.  From now on, I will only take on jobs where I’m filled with anxiety and trepidation from the mere mention of the opportunity.

So far, I’ve gotten yelled out 3 times by 3 separate guest chefs, all for different reasons.  My coworkers warned me that this would happen as the event drew near (it’s this weekend), but I thought, “No way!  Couldn’t happen!  Not to me!”  Well…  obviously I seem to have some sort of reasoning disability.  My coworkers keep reminding me that these chefs aren’t yelling at me specifically, that they’re just venting their frustrations and stress.  That’s grrreat.  You know what, though?  No matter what anyone tells you, getting yelled at just isn’t fun.  This is like when my mom told me, “Mindy, someday when you go to give birth, the doctors will tell you that contractions are a good pain.  That’s a lie.  Pain is pain.  It’s not good.”

So consider this week 7 days of labor after a particularly difficult pregnancy.  Hopefully, at the end of it, I will have given birth to a beautiful event.

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8 Days a Week, I love me some Salumeria Rosi

When I still had my head deep in the FCI Food Technology dungeons, I had the pleasure of fighting for burner space with Alexis & Aaron of Salmueria Rosi.  I could always count on these two kitchen angels to lift my spirits with delectable Italian treats.  I would respond in kind by passing on 100 proof, bubbly cocktails.  They were at FCI developing recipes for Cesare Casella’s “new place” at the time.  That new place turned out to be Salumeria Rosi, open for almost a year now, and for almost a year now it’s been my go-to place for “small” plates of delicious Italian happiness.

The stunning ambience may keep you from appreciating how beautiful this place is in its simplicity.  Half of the store is a counter where you can order salumi, cheese, and pre-made Italian takeaway items.  The other half is elegant, modern dining perfumed with fresh rosemary sprigs tucked gently into crisp white, cloth napkins, serving appetizer-sized portions of modern-rustic deliciousness.  No droplets on plates.  No negative space.  Yet as you can see, the colors of the food itself are stunning.  Pictures can’t capture how much flavor is in each bite, though, and let me tell you, flavor is king here (right under Cesare himself).

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One of the best things that came with switching careers is not just becoming a better cook, but meeting incredible chefs who have that “gift” – it’s that ability to see food and know exactly how to prepare it, how to season it, in order to elevate it into something more.  Cesare, Alexis & Aaron are those people.  It’s a luxury to be able to have a place where you know that nothing served to you will ever be under-seasoned, under-cooked, under-loved.  It’s about more than just a delicious menu with fabulous Bresaola (which I can thank SR for making me obsessed with), it’s knowing that anything you order is going to be fail-proof.

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I always end up ordering with my eyes and not my stomach.  I think “small plate” and forget that 8 bread-and-butter plates make far more than one entrée-sized one.  Yesterday, I left my rain-soaked trek and was welcomed into Salumeria Rosi by a delicious bowl of Chicken & Parmesan broth with a poached egg and proscuitto.  It’s a little like heaven in a bowl, light in texture but rich in flavor.  I could literally eat it everyday (and kinda wish I were eating it right now).

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Our server, Rebecca, recommended that my friend Eunice and I try the anchovy-marinated broccoli.  I have a rule – if someone swears by it, you have to order it.  That rule’s definitely bitten me in the ass before, but not this time around.  Tender, chilled broccoli that burst into tangy, saltiness when bitten.  It reminds me of something I love that may sound odd, but trust me, it’s delicious: Chinese sautéed broccoli the next day — it’s cold, tender, and marinated.  Absolutely fantastic.  Salumeria Rosi’s version is spot on, but leaves out the greasiness.

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The basil & zucchini farrotto topped with thin slices of toasted almond was vivid and bright in both color and flavor.  How do you make cooked farrotto or risotto taste like you grew it in a garden?  Apparently, the answer is an incredible pesto that screams fresh basil with every bite.  The almost slices were genius – the natural, faint nuttiness of the farrotto is elevated by the crunchy almonds in such a decadent way.

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The capstone on an incredible meal was what I can only describe as Italian ratatouille.  Please don’t take away my francophile status, but damn, this version wins, hands-down.  I couldn’t finish all the perfectly tangy & savory zucchini, tomato goodness there, so I took some home and immediately started munching on it when I made it across the park and into my apartment.  As it cooled, this hint of spiciness came through that was absolutely illuminating.  I actually stopped, put the lid back on the takeaway container, and managed to control myself enough to save some for my husband.

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So please, friends, please make the trip to Salumeria Rosi if you have not already and then visit again and again.  I have an evil plot whereby Salumeria Rosi does so well on the Upper West Side that I can convince them to open up a second shop across the park a little closer to 1st Ave.  They deserve your patronage, but more than anything, don’t I deserve more dining options up here on the lonely UES???  Yes, I’m selfish.  No, I don’t care.  It’s a wash.

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100 Reasons to Break a Diet

So it’s a big day…  Today is my 100th post.  Wow… I don’t know whether to be proud, embarrassed, or depressed.  I think I’m a little of all three, but I’m going to say that I’m leaning towards the proud in order to justify my most recent purchase… a new digital camera.  No, I didn’t splurge for the SLR because 1) I don’t think my little-seen photos warrant buying an SLR and 2) I literally felt sick to my stomach forking over the change for my new Canon point-and-shoot, so I probably would have triggered a full-on ulcer if I had dropped SLR change.  Oh, and on day 3 of owning my new camera, I’ve already been asked to bring it to my last event helping out Dave Arnold at Star Chefs…  Disaster waiting to happen?  Yup.  Did I remember to get insurance on this puppy?  You betcha.

So to celebrate this mini-milestone and my new camera (mostly justify the camera purchase), I decided to bake up some strawberry scones.  Actually, it all started because I was trying to be healthy and bought a quart of strawberries on the cheap.  I bit into one and it actually tasted like a strawberry, which is pretty remarkable since outside of Tristars, strawberries have been tasting a lot like… well, like nothing.  I ate half my quart and then cut up the rest and bought myself some buttermilk.  I know most scone recipes call for dried fruits, but there’s something amazing about using fresh berries in scones.  It’s a little like baking your jam right on in there, but it’s not gooey or sweet.  Dense scone gets interrupted by tart, juicy, naturally sweet strawberry goodness.

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For my 100th post and as an homage of the food tech life that I’m leaving behind, I decided to add one more element.  I love Earl Grey tea, have loved it since I was a child, and I think it’s actually a hereditary obsession that I got from my mom.  Specifically, I just love Bergamot.  Every morning before school, my mom would make me Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar, and while it was brewing, I would sit and sniff the foil envelope from the tea bag.

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And… perhaps you saw the episode of Top Chef Masters where Nils Noren used a smokey tea (Lapsang Souchong) to infuse into whipped cream, for which he was criticized with people complaining it was “too smokey.”  All I want to say is that I have had that whipped cream and I have had it infused with even more lapsang… and it’s DELICIOUS.  I’m using Earl Grey because I am mainstream, but the lapsang and the idea as a whole is Mastery.

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For the home cook, use a wine bottle that you’ve cleaned out thoroughly and a Vacu Vin stopper.  Add your (very cold) cream and loose leaf tea and vac like crazy until your arm hurts when trying to pull out anymore air.  Let it sit in the fridge while you work on the rest of your scone mise and strain when ready to use.

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I food processed my butter into my dry, added in some chopped strawberry and pulsed to coat in dry ingredients, then pulsed in my buttermilk, egg, and vanilla.  I was trying to skip a step today, but I think I will go back to combining my liquid into my dry ingredients by hand as the food processor juices the berries a bit and the batter comes out a little pink, which bakes up a little too tan.  I also have a “scone pan” that I got online for cheap years ago.  It’s actually ridiculous and useless, but I have to use it now since I bought it.

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Brush the scones with leftover buttermilk mixture and sprinkle with Demerara sugar.  Bake it up and make sure to eat one straight out of the oven… then eat one when it’s cooled slightly… then eat one toasted after it’s cooled… each one tastes different, I swear!!!

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So what have I learned after posting 100 times?  How to use WordPress… somewhat.  That and losing weight is a losing battle.  At least I’m losing something, right?

Thank you for reading and laughing with or at me.  Either way, I don’t really care as long as you’re laughing.  But if you’re laughing at me and I find out about it, I’m going find you then slap you with a rope of cheese.  Just a warning.

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Strawberry & Earl Grey Scones

2.5 cups AP Flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt (I like to use a healthy pinch on scones – a little salt is kind of nice here)
6 tablespoons butter (ice cold and cubed)
1 pint diced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup toasted walnuts (make sure they’re cooled)
1/2 cup buttermilk (add a little extra to compensate for loss from pouring out of the bottle)
2 tablespoons loose leaf Earl Grey (feel free to use even more)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Demerara sugar

  1. Mix loose leaf tea into cold buttermilk, pour into clean wine bottle, and vacuum down with Vacu Vin as much as possible.  Keep in fridge – can be done the day before.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.  Toast & cool the walnuts.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together to combine.   If making by hand, just stir to combine.
  4. Pulse in the cubed butter to create pea-sized little lumps or cut with a pastry cutter until pea lumps are achieved.
  5. Add in the strawberries and walnuts and pulse quickly just to coat in dry ingredients.
  6. Strain buttermilk and measure out ½ cup.  Gently beat one egg to combine and mix in buttermilk and vanilla to incorporate.
  7. Mix all ingredients by hand (literally use your CLEAN hand) quickly – DON’T OVERWORK THE FLOUR!  When just combined, dump out onto a flour work surface and gently fold a few times with another ½ cup of flour or so until you can form the dough together into a disk.
  8. Cut disk into 8 pie pieces, brush with leftover buttermilk, and sprinkle with Demerara.
  9. Bake until golden and crisp on the outside, but not overly dried out in the center – anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes depending on your oven.  Rotate half way through.

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DIY disposable chopstick elegance

I decided to just post a quick and fun how-to on making a chopstick stand out of your disposable chopstick wrapper.  My friend Keiko does this when we eat out and now I can’t help but do it every time someone places cheap balsam-like sticks wrapped in a paper tube down in front of me.  It’s cuter and more authentic when Keiko does it because she can hold a conversation at the same time.  Me?  I’m usually completely withdrawn from conversation, staring at my paper folding, chewing on my bottom lip in frustrated concentration.
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The activity keeps me distracted and calm so that I don’t sit there, bobbing my knee or tapping my foot, anxiously waiting for my food.  My husband thinks it’s like Dog Whispering, where Cesar Milan gives unruly dogs a task to accomplish so that they don’t attack people and small animals.  Kind of like how blogging keeps me from going upstairs and telling my neighbor that her child is annoying and could he stop running laps with his iron feet back and forth and back and forth.  It also helps me from angrily and loudly spraying Oust outside my other neighbor’s door who smokes like a chimney and refuses to crack a window, causing the hallway and my apartment to smell like a college dorm room from the 90s.  Yep, I’m that neighbor.  Now all I need is a gaggle of cats…

Fancy Shmancy Disposable Chopstick Stand

  1. Start by folding your chopstick wrapper into thirds like you would fold a piece of paper to fit into an envelope, folding the left 1/3 over the center, and then the right 1/3 over that.
  2. Slide1

  3. Fold your new, smaller rectangle (that is 1/3 the length of your original chopstick wrapper) in half lengthwise and then unfold slightly, forming a kind of tent.
  4. Start at one side of the tent and push the pointed edge of the tent down and pinch the sides, making an inverted Isosceles triangle that’s bisected by the top of the tent.  Repeat on the other side until you have created your own chopstick stand

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Minutes of fun...

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Slow your Kati roll

I think I have Food OCD.  I go on food binges where I become obsessed with a particular dish or food item and crave it every second of everyday for weeks on end, sometimes even months.  Eventually, my cravings are satisfied enough that I can find a way to take it out of daily rotation… and put it into weekly or monthly instead.  Right now as I sit on my couch like the giant saddle bag with legs that I am, all I can think about is my new favorite lunch food – kati rolls from where else, Kati Rolls in the West Village.  (Oh, FYI – all these pics were taken with my iPhone!  And yes, there’s definitely a little Kati Roll left on my iPhone screen… and no, I didn’t consider licking the deliciousness off of it… who would do that???)

IMG_0055.JPGYou know what the problem with New York is?  An abundance of bad food choices.  You can throw a stone here and hit a bland place to eat, then have that same stone ricochet off that bland restaurant and hit at least 8 more that are even worse.  All I want to know is what’s wrong with seasoning?  Huh?  What’s wrong with salt?  If it weren’t for salt, I’d pass out several times a day… without the aid of alcohol.  Salt is delicious!!!  I promise!  Here’s my suggestion if your family has a history of eating bland foods: take one for the team and start introducing flavor into your diet now.  Sure, you may suffer the long-term health repercussions, but your children and your children’s children will thank you.  They’ll eventually evolve and adapt until, like me, they have a medical need for flavor or else they will pass out from blandness poisoning!  While the decor inside Kati Roll is simple as can be, the flavor that is pulsing out of this joint is anything but bland.

Flavor makers.  Flavor makers with a smile.

Flavor makers. Flavor makers with a smile.

Kati rolls are a good way to start.  Indian flatbreads (paratha) are toasted up on a skillet and then rolled and filled with ridiculously flavorful grilled, marinated chicken, beef, potato mix, paneer, egg, or some combination those with thin slices of red onion.  The toasted paratha alone are a delicious treat – it’s the perfect balance of slightly chewy and almost flaky with the very slight taste of tangy yeastiness.

Toasted, tasty, obsession-worthy paratha.

Toasted, tasty, obsession-worthy paratha.

Truly, one roll is plenty for lunch…  Unfortunately, because these damn things are so tasty, I always order two because I can never decide between my favorites: the marinated, grilled Chicken Roll or the spicy, tangy Aloo Masala Roll.  Two warm rolls wrapped in foil and served on a paper plate.  It’s not winning any plating points but I’ll gladly give up a visual show for warm, slightly sweet paratha wrapped around spicy, well-seasoned meat or potatoes with fresh, tangy onion slices.

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Hello delicious Chicken Roll.

Hello delicious Chicken Roll.

The only other roll I’ve tried so far is the paneer roll – also delicious, just not as delicious in my opinion.  Eventually, when I do tire of my obsession, maybe I can find a way to try other rolls.  Besides, with a menu like this, you kind of feel obligated to try every picture shown:

IMG_0045.JPGYou know what’s a terrible idea?  Blogging about the food that you’re obsessed with when you don’t have any access to it… and staring at pictures of it at the same time.  Probably one of my worst ideas yet, right after that time I tried to make a kale smoothie.  Don’t ask.  So one last picture for my self-inflicted kati roll torture to leave us all drooling with spicy aloo desire:

Aloo happiness.

Aloo happiness.

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Beat me or eat me!

No, I’m not trying to make my blog post titles more feisty and suggestive, I’m just quoting the t-shirt that I donned yesterday in an attempt to promote The Brooklyn Cheese Experiment while also interviewing contestants and spectators.  Sadly, I neglected to take pictures or sample all of the contestants’ dishes.  Instead, I’m going to defer to the good people at the Village Voice who covered the event in detail.

The 30-second rundown is this: cooks prepped, they came, they served, some conquered, and all laughed themselves to pieces at the cheese & grapefruit+vodka cocktail party.  Quick note: grapefruit vodka doesn’t really pair well with a particularly garlicky camembert.  That’s an aftertaste that just won’t quick.  My favorite dish, even if she weren’t my favorite competitor, belonged to Bonnie Suarez.  Her three cheese spicy cracker with a chilled tomato-ricotta soup chaser put CHEESE in the forefront and didn’t relegate it to a side flavor.  If you adhere to Iron Chef judging guidelines, then you know that if you luck out and your secret ingredient is cheese instead of something like a gingko nut, you count your damn blessings and make your dish all about the cheese.

After the after party, a mass gathering headed to Lucky Eight restaurant in Borough Park Brooklyn – my first time dining in both this incredible Chinese restaurant and this neighborhood in general.  Well, I was immediately stopped and asked for directions in Chinese which is funny because a) I’d never been there before and b) I don’t speak Chinese.  I used my handy iPhone to help communicate directions and even drew my newfound Chinese friend a little map to where she was going.  After dinner, we had to call for car service to get home as there don’t seem to be any taxis roaming about in Brooklyn outside of Williamsburg.  Here’s a little tip – if you ask a Chinese restaurant for the number a good car service and they nod, write down a number, but never really acknowledge you in English, chances are that your car service is going to be a multilingual experience.  Once again, my iPhone bridged the great divide and Chris and I managed to get home safe and sound.

Today, however, I am trying to get over what seems to be the onset of a mild flu.  My weapons of choice in this immune battle are gummy bear vitamins by the handful.  Let’s hope it’s not the swine flu…

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