Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Young Prodigy

When you spend a lot of your time preparing elaborate menus made from impeccably sourced ingredients and paired with carefully selected wines, like I do, you can sometimes forget how elemental food and cooking are. I was reminded of this fact recently when I gave a private cooking lesson. My student had requested, among other things, to learn how to make Bananas Foster, the classic New Orlean's recipe of bananas flamed in rum. This, by itself, is not unique. No, the funny part is that it will be over a decade before my pupil can go out and get the ingredients for the recipe himself. You see, this student's name is Harry and he is ten-years-old.

Let me start by saying Harry is already a darn good cook. I could plug him in with a group of executives doing some culinary team building and he'd probably be showing them how to saute and chop. And, from the stories he tells, Harry has already had some great food experiences. He's eaten kangaroo jerky in Australia, learned how to make pizza in Italy and has already visited our country's most prestigious cooking school, The Culinary Institute of America. Yet while Harry is well on his way to becoming a fabulous cook, he still looks at food and cooking like the kid that he is. He really enjoyes the basic things, the stuff that someone who has spent years cooking, like me, has long taken for granted. Things like: Parmesan is not only delicious, it's fun to grate; bananas ARE sometimes tricky to peel and it's really satisfying to dice the celery stalks all the same size. The stuff that most people first loved about cooking.

So while I may have shown him how to make homemade ice cream and bread, how to thicken a chowder and flame some bananas; for the almost three-hours of our cooking lesson Harry reminded me of the simple pleasures of cooking. And that was by far the best recipe of the day.

Harry is really into baking, so here's my recipe for Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

Butter, Room Temp. 7 Tablespoons
Flour 1 ½ Cups
Baking Soda ¼ Teaspoon
Baking Powder ½ Teaspoon
Salt ¼ Teaspoon
Light Brown Sugar ¾ Cup
Vanilla Bean, Split/Scraped 1
Pineapple, cut 1/8” Slices 8 Slices
Rum 2 Tablespoons
Sugar 1 Cup
Eggs 2 Large
Milk ¾ Cup

Preparation Procedure-

Preheat oven to 350˚. Butter an 8 or 9-inch nonstick cake pan. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

In a medium pan, combine brown sugar, and the vanilla bean and seeds with 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer. Add the pineapple and poach for 5 minutes. Remove the pineapple, raise the heat to high, and reduce the liquid to ¼ cup, about 10 minutes. Stir in rum, set aside.

In mixing bowl, combine 6 Tablespoons butter with sugar. With the paddle attachment, on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and incorporate completely. Lower the speed and add sifted ingredients. Mix on low for 10 seconds. Add milk, mix until smooth.

Arrange the pineapple slices in an over lapping manner at bottom of cake pan and brush most of the flavored syrup over them. Pour the batter over the slices and bake for 30 minutes (rotating after 15 minutes). Let cool 2 minutes before inverting. Spoon remaining glaze over top.

Serves 6-8.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fungi Feast

While the majority of the dinner parties we do at Kirk's Traveling Kitchen tend to be the standard four or five course affairs; elaborate, mini-coursed tasting menus are becoming more and more popular. While easily among our favorite events to do, these dinners, which can be anywhere from 10 to 15 courses, paired with wine, over four-plus hours, are not for the faint-of-stomach. However if you are a dedicated food person, and believe in the role dinner can play as entertainment (beyond pleasurable sustanence), it might be an experience for you!

To give you an idea what one of these meals entails, I've listed the menu from a dinner I did this weekend. The host suggested the theme "Mushrooms" and wanted to pair the individual courses with wines from his exceptional cellar. Like many of the tasting menus that we do, my team and I may have had as much fun preparing and serving the food as the guests had eating it!

"Fungi Feast" Mushroom Tasting Menu from May 10,2008

1st Course: Crab "Rangoon" stuffed Morel Mushroom Tempura with Fresh Wasabi Ponzu

2nd Course: Danko Shiitake Mushroom Spring Rolls with Mint & Peanut Sauce

3rd Course: Bison Carpaccio with Shaved Raw Portobellos, Sea Beans & Truffle Salt

4th Course: Hen of the Woods Mushroom "Cappuccino" with Celery Root Foam

5th Course: Pecorino Custard Ravioli with Trumpet Royale Mushrooms & Madeira Essence

6th Course: Poached Wild Scottish Salmon with St. Georges Mushroom Terrine & Pumpkin Seed Sabayon

7th Course: Pomegranite Glazed Guinea Hen with Farrotto, Cavolo Nero & Porcini Picada

8th Course: Roasted Beef Loin with Fingerling Potato Galette & Wild Mushroom Confit

9th Course: Chabichou du Poitou (Goat Cheese) with Celery Hearts & Zante Currants

10th Course: Blueberry Tartlets with Neufchatel Pastry Creme, Graham Cracker Crust & Candy Cap Mushroom Streusel

11th Course: Individual Devil's Food Cakes with Domori Chocolate Buttercream (Birthday Surprise!)

12th Course: Dark Chocolate & Tuile Cookie "Fungi"