Monday, March 16, 2015

The Dinner Went Well, I Think...

So that dinner I said I was cooking for the copy editor for Sapo in My Soul, who also did the Index, that was yesterday. Now I bought so much stuff you would not have believed it. I mean, I walked in there with the idea of what I was cooking, but with enough ingredients to make 200 variations on any theme if it came up.
   I also walked into Margaret's house with a little anxiety: Several times a year, and sometimes, several times a month, I dream I am called in to cook in an emergency situation. The dream always starts off nicely: Someone calls to say they've got 300 people coming for a wedding and the chef is drunk and since I'm a pro can I step in and do it. Snap, right? I did that stuff for a couple of decades. Or someone calls to say someone important, someone I admire and who is also important, is showing up at their little restaurant and they don't feel comfortable allowing their own chef to do the cooking, so will I come and save the day.
   There are dozens and dozens of variations on that.
   Of course I show. I ask what's needed, get told, calculate quickly what needs to be done and in what order, and then ask where the kitchen is. I get shown. I check things out quickly because, as I noted, it is always an emergency, and often an extreme emergency to get these people fed. Now, in real life, the trick to dealing with a potentially angry wedding or funeral mob, or any big or medium sized group, is to get a drink into their hands and have a backup ready. Nobody complains about waiting a bit for the food if you've given them a couple of stiff scotches or whiskeys or champagnes.
   But in my dream, they're always past that point: The people tend to be on the ornery side of having been served a bit too much without any food having shown up.
   So I go to the kitchen--which is often downstairs and huge and sort of dungeon-like with poor lighting and lots of dark corners--and that's where the dreams go bad. Sometimes there is no food to cook and the people are getting crazier and crazier. Sometimes there is food and people to assist me and we get everything ready only to discover there are no ovens or stoves or anything else to cook on. Sometimes there are no pots. Sometimes no water. Sometimes the lights go out and I have to do it in the dark. Sometimes the food is rotten. Sometimes everything is good but there are no plates on which to serve the food, or no silverware to eat it. Sometimes there are no assistants. Sometimes I cannot cut with the knives I've been provided. Sometimes the floor gets too hot to walk on and my shoes melt and I cannot walk to do the work. Sometimes my arms fall off when I am almost done and I just stand there wondering how they've come up with a new way to make me fail.
   There are a hundred variations on that theme, all of which leave me utterly helpless and a failure.
   It is not like real PTSD, but it is a small cousin and it affects my life.
   So there I was, bringing in saute pans, pots, knives, fruit peelers, my cutting board, and lots and lots of food and I was sort of scared to death I would freeze and discover there was no water.
    Thank god, Madeleina came with me to help out.
    I unpacked the two boxes and one large bag and tried to lay things out in the way I'd need them. I tested the stove for heat--I still blew it with the salmon a bit--and, after a few minutes chat, I started working. First order of business was something to have on the patio, outside, so I could cook in peace. That was a great round of parmesan cheese bread that I warmed in a moist brown paper bag in the oven at 325 for 10 minutes. That was served with warm brie, a few types of olives I'd bought--yes, I cheated on the bread, brie and olives--and then some sun dried tomatoes I'd soaked in olive oil and garlic. It was a good opening salvo.
    We moved on to a caprese salad: Normally mozzarella topped with tomato slice topped with basil leaf, drizzled with olive oil. I made it with fresh, smoked mozzarella, really rich organic Campari tomatoes and organic basil, topped with my house balsamic vinaigrette--good balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic and shallots; sea salt and cracked black pepper. It was lovely and a good variation on a theme.
    Next up: Slender slices of salmon, seared, dressed with garlic, olive oil, a bit of teriyaki, a touch of sesame oil, some browned sesame seeds--skin almost candied--and served on a bed of organic, local grown Texas spinach, still holding some form when plated. Around the salmon were four very small Danish golden potatoes; served on the side was a melange of organic broccoli tips, cauliflower, zucchini and yellow squash with sliced baby bok choy, ginger, scallions, garlic. Very nice. Very good.
    Next up, a male duck breast, seared, cooked topside, sliced thin, served on a bed of 6 asparagus done just right, with anjou pear and apple slices slices  in a balsamic/red wine sauce.
    Then a scoop of very good strawberry gelato to clear the palate and allow the cook (moi) and my assistant, to clean up the kitchen and go outside where I had a glass of Cabernet and a smoke.
    Last major was sauteed sea scallops. They were sauteed in my trusty garlic and olive oil. When brown but still raw inside, I added thin, not quite julienned, slices of red, yellow and orange peppers with minced shallots. Near the end I added the 3-shrimp-per-portion I'd forgotten to add to the salmon, and then served that on a small mountain of spaghetti squash that had been in the oven for 80 minutes on fairly low 325. It was perfect.
    When the scallops and shrimp and peppers were done, I plated them, then added the juice of 4 limes to the pan, brought it quickly to a boil, then put in about an ounce of really good bleu cheese that quickly melted into the lime juice. That was served over everything. Made your mouth tighten up in 4-5 different spots.
   For dessert: Madeleina made whipped cream with organic sugar and Peruvian vanilla, then whisked into that organic blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. We topped that with a spoonful of great orange marmalade because I burned the chocolate sauce we were going to use.
   I think it was a good feast.
   Nobody got sick yet.
   That's a good sign.

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