When I think about what makes me the happiest, hands down it's when someone is enjoying a meal I cooked for them. The best meals are admittedly enjoyed with friends and family, but I'll cook for anyone who is brave enough to pull up a chair at the table ... or anyone who has no other options. Recently our company was honored to receive two guests from our Japan office, Kawabe Hirokazu and Shunji Tanaka. To make them more comfortable and to forgo meetings at the office or in loud restaurants, we decided to put them up in a lovely rental home on the "rim" (Page is located on a mesa) which overlooked Lake Powell. The house was, to put it bluntly, a stunner - and they spared no expense on the kitchen. So I piped up and offered to cook for our guest and the management team that would be meeting with them during their stay.
Can you believe they went for it? If I'm lyin' I'm dyin'.
I've cooked for a company get-together before, but it was much less formal and for a smaller group of people. This time I'd be cooking for 10 people, one of whom was the big boss, Gary Yamamoto (I've mentioned him several times on the blog - he signs my checks but he's also a fellow foodie). He enjoys going out of his way to point out things I may have missed, but I know he loves to tease and I wouldn't have it any other way.
As soon as I got approval I promptly threw myself into planning each meal. I borrowed deeply into cookbooks with dog-eared pages, the recipes of which I'd been longing to cook for more than just myself. As a singleton, I was taking a chance on upping my game for 10 people each meal (give or take).
I'm happy to report that not only did no one get sick or expire from my cooking, they pretty much liked everything I made for them. At least that's the feedback I was getting to my face. You'll have to hunt them all down individually to see if they were just being nice ...
Julie Child once penned, "One of the secrets, and joys, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed." I suppose it wasn't too smart of me to be trying out my cooking skills on such clientele, but if not now, when? In cooking and pretty much anything else in life, you're learning by making mistakes and correcting them. David Chang's recent discussions on failure here and here are proof that if I'm ever going to learn to cook well, I cannot be afraid to make mistakes ... in front of anyone and everyone.
Pretty much everything I cooked on the menu (the menu I wrote and re-wrote, second-guessed and dreamed about for days before our guests' arrival) was spot-on. Except for one thing: the hollandaise sauce for breakfast one morning. I am quite familiar and most comfortable with making hollandaise sauce in a blender and I should have done that instead of using this opportunity to try it the traditional way over a double-boiler. Ack - it was awful! First attempt, my water was too hot and the eggs scrambled before I could even try to incorporate the melted butter. Second attempt, frothy yellow eggs but I poured the butter too fast and as madly as I whisked, I could NOT get the butter to incorporate into the eggs.
This is where my OCD takes over and saves the day. I ultimately have plan A, B and often C in my hip-pocket. I omitted the steak-sauce spiked hollandaise and poached eggs and instead went for a soft scramble spiked with steak sauce and a hint of lime. No one was the wiser and I didn't have to admit (to them at least) that I'd messed up.
For me, that's an epic win; taking a failure, not getting tripped up by it, and moving on to plan C.
After four days of "private cheffing" I was physically and mentally exhausted ... as well as intensely fulfilled and exhilarated. Totally ready to do that again, and I'm hoping I may have the opportunity to cook privately more. I'll keep you posted on that :)
And look what my friend Shunji brought for me from Japan!
So here we are a few days before Thanksgiving and while all my favorite bloggers are posting fabulous Thanksgiving recipes (I love you guys - how do you do it?) I'm still catching my breath and just went grocery shopping for turkey day yesterday. My apologies, there are no Thanksgiving recipes here, but I will leave you with a scrumptious beef bowl from Chef Ed Lee's Smoke and Pickles cookbook using leftovers from last weekend's bounty: rice, which we had every day because you really must have rice available at every meal if you're hosting Japanese folks, grilled rib eye from our farewell dinner, and collard greens from the night before that had accompanied some Rose's Luxury's Fried Chicken, coleslaw, and cornbread. Slap an egg on that along with an amazing corn rémoulade and you're hanging out in Ed's wheelhouse.
*For some amazing inspiration from Chef Ed Lee, be sure to check him out this season on "Mind of a Chef".
Rice Bowl with Beef
Adapted from Ed Lee's original recipe in Smoke and Pickles
*I'm only including part of Ed's recipe in this dish, really to prove a point that an amazing dish can be constructed out of leftovers. Ed's dish calls for marinating flat-iron steak in Asian ingredients - I used left-over grilled "Delmonico-style" rib eye because it needed to be used. In keeping with the southern-cooking theme of his cookbook, he offers his unique take on collard greens. I used a low-and-slow braised recipe that calls for a variety of collards and tons of garlic - find a collards recipe that you love and go with it! The Corn Chili Rémoulade is something I'd never tried before, so I'm including Ed's exact recipe for it here. Once you try it, you'll want to slather it on EVERYTHING - fair warning!
Corn Chili Rémoulade
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 2 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (I had fresh frozen corn in the freezer - if corn is no longer in season where you live, it's okay to use frozen corn here - I won't tell)
- 1/4 cup Perfect Rémoulade (included below)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
To make the corn chili rémoulade: melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the corn and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the rémoulade and chili powder, and set aside.
Ed Lee's Perfect Rémoulade
*This is a scary-long list of ingredients, but push through the fear. This recipe makes 3 glorious cups of rémoulade and you'll want to use it on everything from burgers to raw vegetables. It's best to make this one day in advance, to let the flavors harmonize.
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise (homeade or the good kind)
- 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1/2 cup chopped pickled okra or chopped cornichons
- 2 garlic cloves, grated or finely minced
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons freshly chopped tarragon
- 1 teaspoon freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grainy mustard
- 1 teaspoon ketchup
- 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 3 dashes Tabasco sauce
Put the eggs into a small pot of water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 4 minutes, then drain and immediately transfer to an ice bath to chill. Drain.
Peal the soft-boiled eggs and add to a large bowl. Beat with a whisk; the yolks will still be runny. Don't worry if it's lumpy. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon but runny enough to pour out of the bowl. Transfer to a jar and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. The rémoulade will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Rice Bowl Assembly
*I mentioned above I had a lot of leftover rice on-hand. The foundation of Ed Lee's rice bowls consist of a layer of rice that has turned golden and crispy on the bottom yet still fluffy on top. He achieves this by cooking rinsed and soaked rice in a cast-iron pan. When the rice is done, he'll raise the temperature of the pan up to medium and continue cooking the rice until it's crusty bottom is formed (and who among us doesn't love a crusty bottom?). If you have leftover rice as I did, you can achieve roughly the same effect by reheating cold, leftover rice in a hot skillet with just a smidgen of sesame oil. Press the rise down with a spatula and let it get crispy for a few minutes before you pile on all the toppings. Yes, it's an additional step, but it's these little "extras" that turn good food in to great food.
To make the bowls, gently re-heat your steak of choice and collards. Scoop the rice into your bowls. Spoon your collards over the rice and pace your beef over the greens. Place a fried egg over the beef in each bowl and spoon about a tablespoon of the rémoulade over the egg. Serve immediately, with spoons - it's best to mix everything together before enjoying.