Monday, September 27, 2010

A Bicentennial Celebration Through Food

Its was indeed a very special dinner for many reasons. Yes, Mexico was celebrating its 200 year independence anniversary (which coincidentally landed exactly on a Thursday and no, Mexico's independence is not 5 de Mayo, its the 16th of September) but along with this we had a very special guest. My cousin from Houston had reserved his spot for this Thursday about a month ago. Also, we invited a very close friend and he brought along two additional friends, one by the name of Don Julio (reposado of course) and another Peruvian friend, which you could learn more about in Tamy's previous post. It was as she said it, a guys night in and a very fun one at that.

Even though the group was smaller, the whole night was fantastic and ended at about 1:30 AM, which is always a good sign. The food was all Mexican or Mexican influenced. There was a mix of spicy and non-spicy to give the real spectrum of food. Not all Mexican food has to be spicy, but definitely could be!
The menu was the following:
Appetizer: Foie Gras, porcini mushrooms and white truffle flautas with a plum balsamic sauce and scallions
Main Dish: Braised shoulder with two sauces and fideos secos
Dessert: Tunas (cactus fruit) sprinkled with chili with raspberry sorbet

Flowers are a huge part of Mexico, and even though we could not find the most authentic ones, multiple colors are a must.
The first take on traditional Mexican food are the "flautas" or as they are more commonly known here "taquitos". This case the flautas were rolled with a foie gras mousse and porcini/white truffle mix. The tortillas were hand made and fresh from that night. Once the tortillas are rolled, they are fried for about 2-3 minutes. The balsamic plum sauce added to the flavor of the flautas.
The main dish was a braised shoulder slow-cooked with two different sauces. One chipotle with a wine reduction and the other a very classic green tomato sauce. To accompany the meat and differentiate the tastes, we served fideos secos which is basically noodles cooked in a tomato/chicken broth sauce. The meats were spicy, so the pasta helped cut down the heat.
Here are the tunas (pictured in the back) red and green. They are very tast and highly recommended if you ever get a chance to eat them. They are the fruit of the cactus sprinkled with some spicy chile de arbol powder.

My cousin visiting from Houston, enjoying the night and the post dinner drinks and conversation.

Bringing in Don Julio to the dinner was a necessity for any Mexican celebration. For any of you that might not know, Don Julio is one of the best tequilas from Mexico.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Guys Night Out...or In

Last Thursday was what I would call a “Guys Night Out”, or what my sister thought was more like a “Guys Night In”. Either way,  the dinner consisted of four men and myself,. Not only was the guest list men’s only, all of them brought with them  a troublesome love story. One of them also brought with him a bottle of Don Julio tequila as a way to celebrate Mexico’s 200 years of independence, which towards the end of the night became the perfect poison to drown all sorrows. Our dinners tend to have slightly more female representation, so last Thursday was unique as far as gender make up goes. I was a bit concern at the beginning, I must say. My skills and those days of just “hanging out with the boys” are a bit rusty now that I am a married woman. So I did wonder whether or not I would fit in on the conversation and really be able to contribute, which I love doing. Interestingly enough though, the night turned out to be more familiar than I had imagined and very much reminiscent of your traditional “Girls Night Out”. There were the usual stories about love, and the lack of love. There were also plenty of stories about those who broke our hearts and why and how they did so, and yes, there were even tears! (though these were caused by the onions Felipe was chopping to make the salsas, the scene itself was priceless).

Let me focus for a moment on one particular story of one of the guests. As it turns out, one of the guys present had just broken his engagement 5 DAYS prior to the dinner! As soon as he came into the apartment, I could tell the poor guy was in bad condition. With his first glass of wine came some preliminary conversations about the ex and the breakup,. But it all really came pouring out towards the end of the night after we were done with eating and having conversations at the table. As soon as he was able to take the floor, he did not let go. Off he went! Stories about her, some connected well some didn’t, all together, less than a cohesive story was rambling passionate words of disillusionment. It was surprising to see that at the end of the day, it didn’t really matter if what he was saying made any sense, or if he came across as the villain or the victim of the story. All the guy wanted was some solidarity from the rest of the men, only pairs of ears ready to listen. And that they did! The men sat down, sipped on their tequila, and just listened.

So the big learning from this dinner for me was that sometimes, humans need to just let it all out, and that males are particularly gifted at just listening, without a need to comment, judge, or give out advice. There is something to be said (and admired) about just seating idly by and listening to a soul that lets it all out.

Gracias a todos y pa riba, pa bajo, pa el centro y pa dentro!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The One We've Been Planning for Since Australia...

Before there was a Worth Kitchen, or a Thursday's at Worth Street, this dinner was being planned. The importance that we were putting into this dinner was amazing. We have planned for it for such a long time, and the coincidence that it landed on dinner #15 (please see my old post about creativity and dinner #15) made it all that more perfect.

5 months ago, when Tamy and I got married, we left to Australia for our honeymoon knowing full well that we would be unable to attend the wedding of two very close friends of ours (see default invitees). We made a deal with them that instead of giving each other wedding gifts, we would organize a dinner with amazing ingredients and spectacular wines. And so, here we are 5 months later and the night has finally arrived. Instead of doing it on a Thursday, we changed the day for this week only to Saturday.

So I give you our very first Saturday at Worth Street. The pictures speak for themselves. The theme of the night was "couples". Every plate (with exception of the first) was presented as a couple, in commemoration of both of our weddings.

Setting up the table in the early evening

The table was set, the food was being prepped, the night was just beginning.
Tamy doing her role as the sous chef, prepping all the ingredients. The orange juice would be used for a sauce that would accompany the trout.

Toasted sesame seeds would line the top of the trout.

The first dish was fresh sea urchin with a ponzu sauce accompanying it. Sea urchin is the butter of the sea, absolutely delicious.

The second dish was the Tazmanian trout and the Hamachi with pickled jalapeño peppers.

Dish #3 were two presentations of scallops. On the left, a turkey bacon wrapped seared scallop with a cilantro pesto sauce. On the right, a seared scallop with a shallot champagne vinaigrette.

Plate #4 was a black cod sitting on a aji amarillo based sauce and a sea bass on a mint based sauce. This was accompanied by a squid ink pasta with porcini mushroom and white truffle infused paste.

The 5th dish was a palate cleanser. A watermelon and mint sorbet with a top layer of muscat.

The dessert was a warm chocolate cake with a side of strawberries and cream.

The ideas was to mix them both together for an absolutely fantastic combination.

The night was absolutely amazing. Thank you very much to Myriam and Ramiro not only for your friendship but for your great support throughout this project. May life bring the both of you only the best! Congratulations on your wedding.

The Chronicles of Worth Kitchen: The Cheese, The Fig, and The Balsamic Vinegar

I must confess, keeping up with my "real" job and this blog in the past couple of weeks has become more difficult than originally planned. I do apologize for the tardiness in this post, but I will use this weekend to get up-to-date. For anyone working in advertising, I am currently in what is known as "production hell." So I have been hard at work and somewhat ignoring my blogging duties (definitely not ignoring my chef duties, I actually believe that in the past 3 dinners I have significantly stepped up my cooking, more on that in the posts to follow). And this works as a great transition to the pictures and recipes of our 14th dinner, where I ignored to place the chicken in the oven (I am sure you read about this in Tamy's post last week).

Dinner #14 was by far a fantastic success. Our guests brought something incredible to the Worth Kitchen table and the conversations lasted until the far reaching hours of the night. And even though I did neglect to put the chicken in the oven in a timely manner, the food came out excellent. It was a triple theme night as far as the kitchen is concerned, in every plate we used figs, balsamic vinegar and cheese (pasteurized cheese of course due to the fact that one of our guests was pregnant).

Our appetizer was a goat cheese stuffed fig wrapped in prosciutto sitting on a bed of arugula

This version of the salad without the prosciutto was made for Mireia our pregnant guest, but truthfully makes for a much better presentation. Once the figs are stuffed with the cheese, they are broiled for about 5 minutes with honey on top.
The famous chicken I forgot to place in the oven in time and delayed the meal by 30 minutes. It was was stuffed and rolled with mushrooms, rosemary, shallots, figs and mozzarella. The rosemary twig was used to "sew" the chicken together while in the oven.
The sauce that accompanied the chicken was a fig and balsamic reduction. The pasta was a cilantro based pasta that was definitely the most popular recipe of the night. Adam and Eric definitely requested the recipe so I have added the full recipe below. This plate is very unique and I am very proud to say that is come from Colombian origins. Very easy to make, yet the taste is something totally unexpected.
Cilantro Pasta
2 cups of chopped cilantro
1 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of mustard
2 egg yolks

Place chopped cilantro, mustard, egg yolks, portion of olive oil, salt & pepper into a food processor/blender.
Begin to process at slow and slowly pour in the olive oil (should be a hair thin pour) sauce begins to take form and gets thick.
Cook pasta & drain. Replace hot pasta into pot and mix in cilantro sauce (pasta needs to still be hot). Sauce will cook onto the pasta.
The dessert was a frozen mascarpone and fig mixture stuffed inside a frozen (hollow) fig served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and balsamic reduction sauce. The result was fantastic. A definite repeat.

I want to thank all of our guests for making dinner 14 such a fantastic and memorable night.

A very special thanks to Erik for the fantastic Thank You note you wrote us.

Hope to see you all soon at another Thursday.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Even if you try, you will never be TOO ready...

...was the big learning coming out of Thursdays at Worth Street, dinner #14. After the experience of dinner #13. where I will say we "lacked organization" to keep this as free spirited as possible (it really was a bit chaotic), we decided to get a head start and do the grocery shopping as well as the dessert, one night before the dinner. This was MONUMENTAL, we were surprised at how ahead of the game we were, we felt we had it all figured out, we were ready to go, our upcoming Thursday dinner would turn out to be impeccable! It had to! We were inviting editor and creator of Tribeca Citizen, who wanted to write about us and had even asked if he could take notes and pictures. The pressure was on, and this time, I wasn’t about to use wine as a resource again (another learning from the last dinner). We also had invited Lee, the director of strategy at 360i, who I had only met once, and his wife, an art historian and now interior designer, who I was going to meet for the first time. The other two guests were good friends of ours, there to ease some of the tension and bring with them a familiar element. So there we were, Felipe and I, 7:30 PM on Thursday, already prepping for the food with dessert done and an appetizer that was almost ready to go. We couldn’t believe how little we had to do and how small the chances were that things could go wrong with the plates. To be completely honest, we had also played it a bit safe with the food, making figs and balsamic vinegar two of the overarching ingredients (how can one go wrong with figs!).

The night started out beautifully. Since we had done much of the prepping, we were able to take the time to enjoy the guests, ease drop on the conversations, contribute on the topics of discussion, and sip on the beautiful bottle of Champagne Lee had brought over. We sat down for dinner at a very reasonable hour for us (9:30!) and opened up the dinner with an appetizer that was small and perfect to open the appetite. Things were going so smoothly, I began feeling we were really starting to get a hang of this, we were discovering the right combination, the right process to go about these dinners, the perfect formula! After making some time between plates, I got up and began picking up the plates so that we could start serving the second course. And as I was almost on the last plate, I turned around to see Felipe wave to me, asking me to come closer. He had a small, mischievous smile on his face so I figured he was just as relaxed as I was, and was just enjoying the night. As I got closer to him, he asked me to get closer, close enough to whisper in my ear. As I leaned over, I heard the words which I was not expecting at all: "Honey, I forgot to put the chicken in the oven". I pulled back, we looked at each other and all of a sudden, we were both caught in an uncontrollably, non stop laugh attack. It was a nervous type of laugh, it was also a laugh of disbelief, how can that have happened! There was so little we had to do, putting the chicken in the oven was if not one of the only cooking activity, the main one for sure. After we were done laughing, I asked Felipe exactly how much more time he needed and he replied 13 minutes, which I calculated would really be about 15 to 20. So after trying to figure out what to do, we decided to just be open and honest about it. We held hands as we walked to the table, where all our guests were wondering what in the world was going on with us. Felipe sat down to deliver the confession and began with - “we got something to tell you”, which scared everyone for a moment and also made everything that came afterwards so not a big deal (good strategy Felipe!). People cheered and were happy to keep drinking and talking.

The chicken turned out tasting delicious and the night ended up being a remarkable one filled with great company, great wine and food, and great stories. We left to go to Mexico early the following morning, and the chicken became the topic of conversation. What turned out to be an ordinary stuffed chicken made it into conversations overseas, lucky chicken and lucky us!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time to revisit Mexico... two weeks before its Bicentennial

There is no denying that after 14 years of living in Mexico, it has had a profound impact on my palate. The richness in the flavors, the variety in the ingredients, the endless combinations of recipes. There has been a fantastic movement in Mexico of modern Mexican cuisine, from the kitchens of Monica Patiño, Patricia Quintana, and Richard Sandoval (and so many more). This has opened the doors to new experiments in Mexican cuisine. And please, do not confuse Mexican cuisine with burritos, chimichangas, or chili con carne.

The theme of the night was the one ingredient that was born in Mesoamerica, maize (corn).

I present to you my take on a classic:
For the appetizer I created a flounder ceviche with a sweet yellow chili. The lemon and orange juice was quickly mixed with a small amount of cream to give it the richer texture. The sweet corn was steamed with lemon grass to give it additional flavor and served on top as a garnish

Mexican red rice with corn and green peas; a sweet and sour
(and spicy) classic cochinita pibil; and a delicious shrimp with a chipotle cream sauce.
Fresh (homemade) tortillas were included but not photographed.
The recipe for this delicious dish is very simple:
20 medium sized shrimp
1 chipotle chili with adobe sauce chopped
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of wine
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese

Prepare the sauce by adding the wine and the chipotle in a saucepan and reduce about half of wine. Then add the cream and the parmesan cheese. Cheese should contain enough salt, but taste before serving.
Prepare the shrimp in a pan with a little butter. Once shrimp are cooked (aprox. 4 minutes per side) mix with sauce.
Serve with a garnish of cilantro.
Dessert pastel de elote, or Sweet Corn cake (more of the consistency of a souffle)
Enjoying the many stories that Tamy shared with us in the "sobremesa" (there is no exact word in English, but it refers to the moments after the dinner in which long conversations take place)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Honesty Sells!

At least I hope it does because what I am about to say is blatantly honest. It isn’t so much a commentary about the guests, or Felipe and the food, or the wines, oh wait, it is about the wine. Last Thursdays at Worth Street, dinner #13, I have to confess I may have had a few too many glasses of wine. As I sat down to write about the experience, I realized the experience was….blank, plus, a headache too big for it to be a Friday morning hangover headache. I did remember a couple of things. For example, I remember I dropped wasabi peanuts all over the floor. I also remember challenging Felipe (and myself) to cook dessert all by myself (again, don’t ask me how that turned out, ask the guests or refer to pictures). But let me take a few stops back before you label me as a drunk. Dinner #13 was what could be called the first dinner with strangers. Besides my best friend’s roommate, and Stanton, who is turning out to be a good friend of ours, the rest were people who we barely knew, in fact two of them we had never met before, only via email, a cousin of a friend of a friend, one of those connections which takes about 2 minutes just to explain. Don’t get me wrong, the guests were outstanding, but the fact that we didn’t know them is a reality. It also didn’t help that the night was chaotic right off the bat.

Both Felipe and I were running very late, the first guest arrived before we had time to begin any food prepping. We heard our first guest arrive, I opened the door to see a girl who I had only met once, during a recruiter interview (her being the recruiter, me trying my hardest to be placed). She brought with her a beautiful bottle of Proseco and right then and there, won both of our hearts over, mine and Felipe’s. She began to tell us about her travels through the world, this girl has been pretty much everywhere! Adventurous at heart, a snowboarder who had just recuperated from a tough knee injury. The conversation was wonderful, the experience so different to the last (and the only) time we had seen each other. I was so amazed at how things turn around, and how they do so, so quickly. Next up at the door was Stanton, crazy guy, gotta love him though. Up next Sophia, my best friend roommate, she brought with her sunflowers, my favorite! The last two guests arrived a bit later, and these were the two girls who we didn’t know. One of the girls was a yoga instructor and interior designer, the other, a lawyer. While they were both originally from Mexico, tt was amazing to see how different they were in character. It really is amazing to see how much your nationality unites you once you are far away from you country. And here we get to the part of the night where it begins getting a bit complicated (hence the heavier drinking). It is known by many, that I am a horrible muti-tasker. I got to a point during the night, where I was trying to split my attention in too many different places and in too many different directions. I couldn’t ignore anyone or anything because I had to be polite, I had to have things together, I had to be part of it all, but at the same time remove myself from everyone, focus on the kitchen and make sure people felt at ease and were comfortable. Let’s not forget while I play victim here, that after all, I was also a stranger in my guests’ eyes, and they had kindly, with no doubts or hesitations, accepted my invitation.

At the end of the day, dinner was great and all the chaotic energy eased at the “sobremesa” (conversations after dinner). In fact, it ended being one of the longest, most enjoyable after dinner conversations. Everyone was comfortable and relaxed, I could sense everyone had settled in and felt at home. So in the midst of my wasabi throwing undercover drunkenness (at least I hope I wasn’t so obvious), and my playing chef and playing host, and sort of failing at both, I have to say it was a great night. I am thankful for the new people that I know now well enough to have them over at my apartment for dinner.