Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Workshop, A Launch

A launch party for The Boutique Group, June 20th. After spending two weeks pretty much isolated from the rest of the world in an intensive writing workshop at NYU, cooking and catering had taken a backseat to the memories that we were forced to dredge up in non-fiction class. But on the last day, after the goodbyes, there was no time for celebration. I was shopping.
And cooking. And packing for the party. Complete shift in thought and action. It was nice to be back in the kitchen, I thought. But as I sliced mangoes for the salsa, in my head I was composing an essay about the first time I ever tried one. And when I chopped the chicken, I laughed to think of the poem that I wrote in the poetry exchange. The sound of chopping and scraping,the smell on the street, the intense colors and flavors of my local taco truck on 82nd and Roosevelt Ave. Yup, I wrote a poem about a taco truck. When they say intensive workshop, they aren't kidding. It takes a long time to digest. But I managed to cook and, with lots of help from Jose, had fun throughout; grilling, baking, frying, simmering, creation of another kind. The food went, the rum punch flowed, and I got to take home a dozen cupcakes, so I'd say it was a successful night. Taking the subway from Queens to Manhattan laden with food and trays for a party of 150 might not have been the best idea I've ever had, though.

This was me waiting on the platform for the E train to come after the party was over. It took me twenty minutes to make it down the stairs!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mexican Night, A Photo Essay

It began with a trio of salsas and did not end with dessert. We were too full to eat it.
Our apologies to Kelly and Jason, who may never want to come back.

Three salsas: creamy avocado salsa verde, charred tomatillo and chile de arbol, and smoky tomato.

The classic mini elote. Always delicious.

Jose's famous shrimp ceviche.

Spice rubbed pork shoulder. Slow roasted for over six hours.

Mexican red rice.

Frijoles Borrachos. Bacon and tequila. Need I say more?

Pickled red onions.

A delicious salad of greens, radish, cucumber, grape tomatoes, and spiced pumpkin seeds, with a sherry-lime vinaigrette. No one wanted to waste precious stomach space so it remained untouched. I ate it for the rest of the week.

A close up of the pork with guajillo salsa.

A little bit of everything.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dinner and a Dream

I have to admit that it is kind of fun to have some extra time on my hands. Almost too much fun.
I only have class once a week (although that will change in a few days), I don't have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning, I have a whole new outlook on life that comes from a combination of getting enough sleep and not being miserable. So where does all of this new energy go? Well since it's me, it goes into thinking, planning, creating, and shopping for dinner. It's just like the best parts of work, the fun stuff without the kitchen B.S. Except that I have to wash my own dishes. And I'm not getting paid for it. Hmmm. Anyway, after my unintentional tour of every grocery store within a 10 block radius of our house at the beginning of the week, I decided to go back to the Met Foods on 37th Avenue and 76th street. The night before, I dreamt that I had been re-hired at my last job and was forced to clean the low-boy fridge and serve panna cottas that looked like jell-o, while the dishwasher peeled potatoes and dropped the peelings on me. I blame the dream on the NyQuil, but for some reason, when I woke up I really wanted meatloaf. I know, I don't fully understand it myself. The mind is a fascinating thing. So I set off planning on making meatloaf, green beans, and mashed potatoes for dinner. Went to Met, picked up some ground turkey, and then got completely distracted by the ketchup section. Long story short, Heinz now makes a ketchup without corn syrup, which really made my day. Then I couldn't find string beans. And I saw my favorite kind of whole wheat pita. Then I remembered that I had a can of Israeli pickles in the cupboard. So I came up with a completely new idea on the walk home. Spiced meatballs. Cumin, zaatar, sumac, onions, garlic. I found some mint in the fridge, so I made a minted garlic yogurt sauce. Half a head of red cabbage, a quarter of a red onion, I made a vinegary slaw. There was a red pepper rattling around, so I threw it on the flame, charred it peeled it, olive oil and garlicked that right up. Broke out the pickles and olives, toasted the pita, set the table up like a buffet, and dinner was ready. What began as a strange dream morphed into something else completely, and that something was pretty tasty. Ahh the life of the unemployed. I still want meatloaf though, maybe next week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Epazote and Esquites!

I walked for hours and hours. Ok not really hours, but at least 45 minutes. Store to store, Associated, Met, Trade Fair, a who's who of ghetto grocers. I went from the big stores, to corner bodegas, the Mexican Bakeries, and I couldn't find it. Epazote, the herb that I needed for dinner. It was a sunny Monday afternoon, my first day outside and on my feet after a very long, rainy week where I sat on the couch, watched bad tv, and coughed my way through the days. I wanted esquites for dinner. We had already bought the corn and the limes at Mango Rico, the chile powder and the cheese at Tulcingo Bakery. But could not find the one thing that makes the dish what it is. Now many people nowadays know and love Mexican style street corn. What's not to love? Boiled or grilled corn, slathered in mayo, sprinkled with sharp cotija cheese, a dusting of spicy chile powder, a squirt of lime, pierced with a stick for ease of eating, it is probably one of the most perfect street food inventions. I, who do not enjoy mayonnaise in general, make an exception for these elotes, as they are called in Mexico. But what many people may not realize who are not lucky enough to pass a street-corn vendor as often as they should, is that there is another dish, often sold by the same women, that is, dare I say, even better than an elote, and that is esquites. Take that same corn, peel it off of the cob, and simmer it with water and a few sprigs of epazote until tender, a touch of butter if you would like. The broth becomes full of the essence of corn, rich and sweet. Pour the corn and some broth into a bowl or cup, usually styrofoam in these parts, and then it gets a squeeze of lime, a hearty shake of cotija cheese, lots of chile, and a spoonful of mayonnaise (which I usually omit, as I do have a mayo phobia). Same exact ingredients, but it is a whole different level. I think it's the broth. Or perhaps because you don't have to work as hard to eat it as its sister on the cob. Who knows? I am a huge fan. So, back to the story. No epazote at Mango Rico, none at our local Associated, all blocks away from our house. We went home, dropped the rest of the ingredients off, and I went out solo to search the streets of Queens. It's always around when I don't want it, why can't I find it now? I crossed Roosevelt Avenue, and stepped into every grocery store that I passed. No, we don't have any, next. Four, five, six stores later, I had just about given up. Apparently there was a shipment of epazote coming into every single store tomorrow. I called Jose, frustrated. Can't you just make it without it? He refused. It would not be the same, he says. Did I need to re-think and re-shop dinner? I had already walked circles and decided to head home a different route. Seven stores, eight, nine, still nothing. I was a block away from the house when I decided to pop into Tulcingo, where we had bought the cheese and chile powder, just in case. That was when I spotted it, a wet plastic bag full of the stinky herb hiding among the cilantro. They had no idea why the crazy white girl had a huge grin on her face while carrying a bag of epazote up to the register. Elated, ecstatic, I didn't care, dinner was saved! Sure I felt kind of like an idiot, but I needed the exercise after a week of couch potato-ing it up. I returned trimphantly to the house, handed the bag over, and sat back while the master put the corn on to boil. Nothing like a little adventure to build an appetite. I couldn't have been prouder if I had grown it myself.