Cocktail Time! Grapefruit Basil Martini’s

Over the years my Mom and I have had a few snow bird vacations to Longboat Key, Florida.  Last year was probably the most memorable and yet forgettable since we kept finding ourselves imbibing at cocktail hour like we were regulars after the twilight ladies golf league.  However, this was not the case, we were just boozy ladies on vacation.

One of my favorite cocktails was the Tommy Bahama Grapefruit Basil Martini.  With summer nearly here and Bar-b-q season around the corner, I thought I’d share this porch/deck/boat/grass/rooftop/picnic table libation with all of you!  It’s tart, herby, and slightly sweet.  You almost feel  healthy drinking it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Premium Vodka
  • 2 oz Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1-2 tsp simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
  • 2-3 Basil leaves

To get started:

  1. Muddle a few basil leaves with the simple syrup in the bottom of a glass or shaker.
  2. Add the vodka, grapefruit juice, and ice.
  3. Shake until very cold and strain into a martini glass.
  4. Garnish with a basil leave and serve.

Voila… Cocktail time!  Have a safe and happy memorial day weekend! xo-G

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The Day I cooked for Jacques Pépin

I recently had the honor of being a chef volunteer at the 5th annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. I first caught wind of the idea through a west-coast based family member, “uncle” Kent, who I’ve just been getting to know over the past 2 years.  You might remember a blog post from the early days of UMK titled; A life without cheese, is not a life worth living!  when I first met Kent in his cheese shop in Carmel, CA.  Kent, a former Hawaiian native, professional sommelier and serious cheese intellectual has the friendliest personality west of the Mississippi, not to mention he’s a natural born networker and knows everybody.  

When Kent first mentioned the PBFW was coming up in April of this year, he said “hey maybe you want to come? I can probably put you in touch with the event organizers and perhaps they can get you volunteering in the kitchens”  Really?, I thought to myself. How cool! I immediately planned to be there.  After sending my resume around and having a phone interview with the head Chef Liasion, Dorothy… things started moving.  I was offered a position to come work and she told me she’d do her best to ‘take care of me’.

It wasn’t until 2 weeks before the event when I found out what she meant…

Holy Sh*t. Eyes wide, mouth dropped open, nervous laughter begins… Jacques Pépin. How? what? me?!

When I arrived at the Spanish Bay club to meet Chef Harvey Wolff, Jacques Pépin’s tour/chef manager on Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited.  Upon meeting Harvey, he was an energetic guy, with a lovely British accent, adorning cigarettes behind both his ears. As we waited for our other chef volunteer, Janet, to arrive, Harvey and I engaged in small talk and found we had quite a lot of things in common, this comforted me, eased my excited nerves and got me ready to work!

Once Janet arrived, we made our way down to the kitchens. One minute it’s a quiet, peaceful, California sunshiny day and with one swing of the door we enter a chaotic, busy kitchen; pots clanking, the sounds of dish washer spray, rolling carts of products, dishes being stacked, Spanish, English, French speaking flutters about.  I love this.  We locate our rack of product and head to find a kitchen.

As we prep our mise en place and put together our plan of attack, Harvey puts Janet and I in charge. We are given two student volunteers, with the hopes of receiving a few more. Prepping 1000 pieces in 8 hours seemed doable…and then we got started.

  • 45 lbs of tuna, filleted and small diced
  • 3 crates of cucumber, mandolin sliced paper thin, and cut to fit each .5 oz tuna tartare
  • 24oz of pressed caviar to be rolled paper thin and stamped out into 1000 circles
  • 1 lbs of shallots, brunoised
  • 1 lb of garlic, brunoised.
  • 1 jug of horseradish
  • 750 ml red wine vinegar
  • 4 volunteers total

We quickly realize we have a daunting task in front of us, but this was the job and this was for Jacques Pépin.

When we finally began working it was already 11am, by then we had luckily secured one other student volunteer making us a team of 5.  Time to get started! Janet and I filleted the tuna, Dominique rolled, pressed, and cut the caviar. Nathan worked on the cucumber slices, and the other student who was as slow as molasses helped out wherever she could. By 1pm we only had 100 pieces prepped on a sheet tray and they weren’t even wrapped in cucumber or garnished with the caviar yet. With one glance, Janet and I both knew we had to get moving!

This hors d’oeuvres, although wonderful in concept was a nightmare in execution. All pieces needed to be worked on quickly and stored back in the walk in, handling raw fish, caviar and cucumber does not last long if out of refrigeration for too long.  We found ourselves making small batches of tuna tartare, rolling and slicing the extremely delicate caviar and rushing it into the walk in. Attention to detail along with time and temperature control was of strict importance.

By 2pm, we had another 150 done.

At 4pm we were only at 500…

Service was to begin at 6:30 and we were IN.THE.WEEDS.

With 2.5 hours to go, our kitchen became fluttered with other chefs such as, Michael Chiarello, Daniel Joly, Michael Cimarusti, Daniel Boulud, Michael Symon,  and Anne Burrell, PLUS their assistants and teams! All of a sudden space became public enemy #1.

Adrenaline was pumping, my hands were starting to shake due to the lack of food and low blood sugar, but I was too involved with my job at hand to be star struck.  Here I am calling shots, moving trays, garnishing, slicing cucumbers and cleaning up my work station simultaneously in between Michael Cimarusti (Top Chef Masters guy, hello!) and Michael Chiarello (tv Celeb chef). Very cool, but totally unphased.

Plating began at 6pm, and we only had 850 pieces nearly finished. Setting up an assembly line in the midst of chaos was interesting, but we made it work. Michael Cimarusti helped give us more room, we stacked our pieces on top of sinks, rolling carts, and other peoples food! Whatever it took to get these out to the guests while still cold and delicious.

Between 6pm and 9pm we were making Tuna Tartare with pressed caviar and chive blossoms a’la minute. Hectic. Fun. Beautiful looking and… worth it.

Finished product: Tuna tartare, wrapped in cucumber with pressed caviar, chive blossoms and garlic aioli.

Jacques station and caviar promotion

Around 8pm Jacques and Claudine came into the Kitchen. The commotion around us quickly slowed down and the other chefs in the room took notice.  Chef Pépin is a happy older man, who’s a well respected icon. His presence is fascinating to all who are in the room.  He comes over to thank us for our hard work and to give us credit for making his dish well. He and Claudine are clearly pleased of the outcome and of the buzzing guests on the floor mentioning “the wonderful hors d’oeuvres by Jacques Pépin!”  He graciously shakes each of our hands, looks us in the eye, and wishes us well with our future culinary adventures.  Claudine comes up to me and says “Your Kent’s niece right?”  “Yes” I say, then she goes into what a wonderful guy Kent is, how happy she is to meet me and have me here, and then calls “papa” over in her lovely french accent to come take a photo…

An epic moment

One of the most exciting moments of my life.  I’ve met a few celebrities here and there, but no one person has been more influential and inspiring than of Jacques Pépin. It was an absolute pleasure to work my butt off for him, to go a full day without food, to learn high end production in an over the top, chaotic, environment. It was the best learning experience this budding culinarian could get in a days work.

I also learned a lot about myself on this particular day which is far more beneficial then the actual work we did.  I learned that I can do this. I can kick butt in a kitchen. I can give direction, and can take it. I can motivate others.  I looked at the situation, mapped it out quickly in my head, and got it done;  precisely, efficiently, timely, safely and confidently. But the biggest piece I take from this was that I was able to earn the respect of those around me.  After all the work I’ve done in school over the last 18 months, this moment made it all worth it and it was the first real experience that made me realize I made the right choice to follow my passion.

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them- Walt Disney

Next up: Los Angeles Food & Wine August 9-13!

Technique: Sous Vide… What is it?

Sous Vide is magic.

It’s like a jacuzzi for meat.

What is sous vide [soo veed], really, you ask? Technically, according to www.epicurious.com it is “French for “under vacuum.”  Sous vide is a food-packaging technique pioneered in Europe whereby fresh ingredients are combined into various dishes, vacuum-packed in individual-portion pouches, cooked under a vacuum, then chilled. Sous vide  food is used most often by hotels, restaurants and caterers, though it’s expected to become increasingly available in supermarkets”

That is a boring definition. 

I would say that sous vide is the most exquisite way to cook a piece of meat. Picture this: You have 60 minutes left to live before the end of the world. Forget sex, calling your loved ones, or crossing off a bucket list item, you want to have your favorite last meal; perfectly cooked medium-rare, marinated steak on the grill. So succulent, juicy and flavorful, that you can die happy (am I projecting here?). Good thing, you miraculously have all the ingredients and equipment needed; a bad ass piece of beef, a really good marinade, a state of the art sous vide thermal immersion circulator, a vacuum sealer, and hot char-coaled grill.  We’re in business.

The sous vide method works like this: Steak, in a vacuum ready plastic bag. Marinade, poured in. Pouch, vacuumed. Sous vide in an immersion circulator, 125*F for 30 minutes.  Open bag, place on a high-heat hot grill, sear to perfection, 3 minutes. 7-10 minutes of rest.

Slice.

Eat.

Enlightenment.

59:59.

Death.

Ok, so it’s not really the end of the world, but forget 24 hours of marinating, or “overnight in the fridge for best results” With the help of one of these you can have a little end of the world, steak party for yourself.

Joking aside, using a sous vide method under vacuum pack eliminates most of the air, allowing whatever marinade or spices placed inside the bag to be absorbed by the meat and to lock in flavors normally lost when cooking.  Cooking in a water bath, or thermal immersion circulator, of constant temperature penetrates the protein from all angles and evenly cooks throughout. Overcooking is pretty much impossible considering the constant set temperature.

One disadvantage that can be easily fixed is the lack of a caramelized (maillard reaction) crust. Because the protein is being cooked so evenly and not over an extreme heat, there is no maillard reaction of the protein surface caramelizing.  One way to fix this is to sear  on a hot grill after sous vide cooking. This will give a juicy evenly cooked steak the crusty texture and char it deserves.

Lets not forget about vegetables! Using the sous vide method on vegetables also has its advantages.  This method will thoroughly cook  the veg while maintaining a firm to somewhat crisp texture, the cell walls do not get destroyed by high heat, and the gelantinization of starch in the vegetable can be achieved without over cooking!

There are a few food safety risks with using the sous vide method, in particular botulism. Duh duhn duhnnn. Don’t freak out! It’s not prevalent but like any other food safety and proper handling are important. To prevent this bacteria from happening always remember to pack food under vacuum pack below 38*F.  The means, don’t put a 45*F steak in the bag if its been on the counter for 8 hours thawing.  Time and Temperature safety- just like all other foods we handle. If you are cooking meat for a long duration, it must reach 135*F within 4 hours and be kept there in order to pasteurize the meat. For example, 48 hour short ribs.  Sound good huh.. tender delicious and botulism free if correctly heated!

Buying a sous vide machine will cost you a pretty penny ($400-$1000 +), but if you are an avid home cook and like exploring new cooking techniques this will not disappoint.  Also to learn more about this cooking technique, pick up a copy of Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure- you’ll be a pro in no time!

For accurate cooking times and temps here is a handy chart from TK; http://www.sousvidecooking.org/tag/thomas-keller/

Homemade Pork Gyoza

I love dumplings.

They are little presents full of happiness for your mouth and almost every culture has their version; pork, fish, beef, vegetables or sweets can be baked, fried, steamed, or boiled. What a versatile food! But when I think of dumplings, I think of Asian pork dumplings, my favorite.  Savory, spicy, and a tad sweet all in the same bite.  I didn’t realize until I started making them the other day that I’ve never actually had homemade dumplings; I usually just order them at restaurants. And lets be honest, they probably pull them from a cardboard box in the freezer.

I have this great little Sushi place a few blocks up from my apartment called Zen, and until the other day they had my all time favorite pork dumplings. Well Zen, I’ve found you out and I have an even better recipe. My dumplings have the same flavors, but with actual chunky ingredients, not a solidified ball of meat, which makes them a slam dunk.

Skip the take out tonight, and whip up these little pockets of love, you will thank me.

INGREDIENTS:

Blanching the Bok Choy:

  • 8 oz Bok Choy
  • 2 qts water
  • 2 tsp salt

In a small pot bring water and salt to a boil. Once a boil is reached, add bok choy stems and blanch until tender (about a minute).  Shock in cold water.  Next, add the bok choy leaves to the pot and blanch until wilted, about 30 seconds. (this will happen quickly so keep a close eye) Shock the leaves in cold water.  Remove the bok choy and pat dry on paper towl, set aside.

Making the filling:

  • 1 lb Lean Ground Pork
  • 2 egg whites, whipped until frothy
  • 2 oz soy sauce
  • 1 oz sake (optional)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 oz sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup Scallions, diced
  • 8 oz bok choy, diced
  • 2 tbsp Ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp, pepper
  • 2 tsp, red pepper flakes

In a mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Combine the pork and mix in the soy sauce, sake, sugar, sesame oil, and mix well together with hands or a fork.  (*Having a box of disposable kitchen gloves nearby is good for a project like this).  After the liquids are mixed, add the ginger, scallions, garlic, pepper, red pepper, and bok choy. The filling is now ready.

Why make pot sticker wrappers when you can buy them! No brainer. A package of gyoza wrappers contains 40-50 wrappers and will cost around $3. Boomski!

To start making the dumplings, line your work space with a piece of parchment paper, this will minimalize the gyoza wrappers from sticking to the bare counter.  Also, place a piece of parchment paper in a sheet tray, this is where you will place your ready-to-be-cooked bundles of tastiness.

Lay out 5 or so wrappers to start on your parchment lined work space. In the center of each dumpling add about a 1/2 tablespoon of filling. This will be trial and error.  I started off with a full tablespoon and quickly found out that the wrapper could not encase that much, but 1/2 tbsp was too little.  You’ll figure it out. Using a finger, dab in a small cup of water and run it along the edge of 1/2 of the gyoza wrapper, fold in half and secure the seams with a few good pinches, pressing the dough together.  Try to make sure to get most of the air out. Reserve on the parchment lined sheet tray and begin the process again with the remaining wrappers and filling.

Cooking the Dumplings:

Flash steam/boil them 4 or 5 at a time in a saute pan filled with about 3/4″ boiling water. This will take about 1-2 minutes.  Pull them from the water and let sit on a parchment lined sheet tray. In a second saute pan add enough cooking oil to coat the pan, around 1/2 inch and heat just until the oil begins to smoke. Make sure the dumplings are fairly dry before tossing in the hot oil.  Scorching hot oil and water do not get along.  Pan fry until golden brown on both sides and serve with my dumpling dipping sauce.

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp ginger, finely minced

Let me know how yours turn out! Thanks for reading- xo, G

A pig’s tail…from head to hoof

This story begins with the few clicks of a mouse in a land called twitter, a far off cyber-realm where people share ideas, connect, promote, and exchange information.  Had I not been sitting in a nail salon, obsessing over Facebook, instagram and twitter simultaneously (yes I’ll admit it) while waiting for my pearly polish to dry, I might not have ever seen this tweet “@themightyrib: Boston foodies…if you’re interested in details about attending a Pig Roast @CitizensPub in the near future, pls DM me. Organizing a group”.  Without regard to my polish, I instantly replied and was greeted moments later by a friendly message from Kevin (@themightyrib) that I was in.  Awesome. Finally a dinner crew that will get down and dirty with some odd bits, and maybe a few people I can learn from. A couple of days later he got back to me with the date of Sunday Feb 26@2pm.  Juuuusst Great, iPhone calendar says I have a ski weekend planned, but what the heck, its been a bare bones winter so far.  The Pig wins.

6 weeks of anticipation led to this…

13 foodies

From all backgrounds

and  all walks of life

strangers to each other

came together with one common goal

…to eat. drink. and eat some more.  Did I just write a haiku or something?  anyway…

I am a carnivore and I have no qualms about it.  I like meat, I believe in meat, and our bodies were designed to digest it. I dig the veggies/vegans/pesca’s too and I am not trying to piss you off. However there is something special about nose to tail eating.  I know it’s becoming a little gimmicky but in concept and to actually be a part of it, is something sort of special.

I mean, we had a moment to bond with the little bugger. The chef brought him out in all his baked, crispy golden skin, ready to be hacked apart, glory.

We got to see the before, so that we could appreciate the after.

Whole Hog, 26lbs of goodness

After everyone arrived and beers had been served, we started with a nice 1st round of raw bar appetizers; clams, shrimp, and oysters.  Couldn’t think of a better way to start off a pig roast, if I do say so myself.

Oysters and Clams

For sides we were surprised with tarragon roasted beets, fried green tomatoes, and truffle oil sweet potatoes.

Gorgeous Beets

Killer Green Tomatoes

And it begins…

Pig Pickin'

Shoulders and Butt

My first plate

Crispy Pig Skin.. doesn't get much better! Pork Candy

Since this was brunch after all, the chef informed us that he had stuffed the pigs belly with chorizo, eggs, spinach, apples, onions, carrots, celery, potatoes and various aromatic herbs and spices.  It was fantastic and the flavors ran throughout the tender meat.

More Pig!

Stuffed.

After fully pigging out, the drinks started flowin’, and the bourbon punch started giving us a warm feeling in our tummys… liquid courage was building and the main event was upon us.

Bourbon Lemon Tea Punch; deadly yet delicious

Offal; the nasty bits and odd parts. The grande silver platter arrived and I was excited, curious and a little grossed out all at the same time, but hey!  This is what I came for.  When else does one experience something like this?  I don’t think I’ll ever be on fear factor getting yelled at by Joe Rogan,  I sure as sh*t am not eating or preparing this stuff at school, and my usual dinners out with friends don’t get this interesting, so I’m going for it.

Brains, Eyes, Cheek, Tongue

Eyeball is interesting.  If it wasn’t for the bourbon tea plus some random foodie peer pressure I might not have done it, so it was a perfect combo.  With a few meaty parts of the head fat still attached I popped the sucker and chewed only slightly.  Tasted like pork, a little oily, and then an odd viscous feel on my tongue. I immediately grabbed for my beer and swallowed.  It wasn’t terrible, but I am glad to have just had the one.  First and last eyeball consumption I hope.

Pig Eye... not sure if it's the right or left

With that, followed brain on toast with a little kosher salt.  Comparative to an oily pate with a liver aftertaste. Not delicious.

Brain shmere. Brown strings are blood lines or brain veins. yuck

And finally, pig tongue- actually incredible!  Tasted similar to roast beef. If you ever have a chance, try it! Any normal meat eater would like it.

Tongue is just to the lower right of the snout

Look at Carol “I’ll try anything once” Glagola, eatin’ her brain toast like it ain’t no thang! She dug right in. You GO girl.

This was a perfect Sunday afternoon. I met a lot of cool people, heard some interesting stories, shared some laughs, ate some weird sh*t, and got cultured on nose to tail eating. If you want to do something out of the ordinary, sip on whisky, and have some good banter, head over to the Citizen Public House.

The…

End.