Team building, cooking events, catering, parties, and classes in the San Francisco Bay Area

In the Kitchen – June 2011

June 4, 2011

June in the Market

An explosion of flavors, from peaches to peppers, is upon us. The markets are alive with vendors we haven’t seen in many months, bringing specialty produce that only comes in spring and summertime. Walking around the market can be a challenge—so many cherries to taste and compare, and choose a favorite. The same with apricots, which have a relatively short season, peaches (those will get much sweeter as the summer progresses), and the long-season stalwarts, plums and pluots. Raspberries and blueberries taste great right now, although the blackberries are still a bit too tart, and the varieties of strawberries, from Seascape to Chandler to Albion, have to be compared and favorites chosen each week.

The vegetable scene has come alive as well—tender young green beans, the best peas of the season, peppers like Padrone (the ones I got last Saturday were way more hot than I expected, but still delicious) and Hungarian green frying peppers—for those, check the archives for my recipe and stuff some yourself. Spring onions and green garlic are giving way to more mature bulbs, and all the lettuce varieties of spring are here, from vibrant deep red to delicate green, to Little Gem, one of the best all-around lettuces of summer. Avocados are at their peak, with better oil content than in the winter, and I’ve finally seen some carrots with a bit of heft—the wispy ones are fine, but I do love the almost triangular, stocky red core Chantenay variety, which is almost meaty inside it’s so dense. Baby turnips with delicious greens, kolrabi with it’s strange looking knobby demeanor, tender spring broccoli, and a growing number of varieties of cucumbers, from pale, twisty Armenian to two-foot long English styles, are crunchy and sweet. If you’ve managed to avoid a trip to the farmer’s market all year, now is the time to start going—you’ll surely run into friends there, I always do!

Team Development, Catered Meetings, Kitchen Parties!

Do you have a work team that needs, craves and desires a great outing? One that wants a chance to enhance collaboration and interpersonal good will? Bring them into the kitchen for a Team Development Workshop. Pass the link to our brochure to the decision maker, and send them to our video for a glimpse of the action, and we’ll do the rest!

Maybe instead of a team cooking event, you simply need a space for a meeting or a party, with great catering. We do that too. Our kitchen can comfortably seat 70, even more with a bit of table-moving, and we cater great meals for our guests. We can even curtain off the kitchen so your group can work in privacy, without the distraction of cooking in the background. Email me for more information.

Maybe it’s time to find a great way to celebrate that birthday, hold a different kind of bachelorette party, or rehearsal dinner, or celebrate any occasion—we can do that with you, either as a cooking party or an “in house” catered party at the kitchen. We even have a unique, very special and chocolaty event to offer—one you’ll never find anywhere else, that will wow your guests in the most amazing way!

Chocolate, Chocolate and MORE Chocolate!

We have teamed up with Valrhona Chocolates to offer a unique and exciting opportunity for a lucky group to work with their Executive Pastry Chef US, Derek Poirier, in our kitchen! Imagine a holiday party (or any other event) where you and your guests get served a great catered meal, AND participate in a workshop with a renowned chef whose job is to train the pastry chefs at high-end restaurants in all of North America. When Derek does a workshop for chefs, the cost is high—$499 per person—but our event is only $160 per guest, with a 40 guest minimum! You and your guests will get an education in chocolate history and chocolate varieties, plus hands-on experience making fancy chocolate desserts, AND the opportunity to learn how to make chocolate decorations, for instance a gorgeous vase of chocolate flowers. Think of this as an opportunity to plan the most unique party EVER!

A Few Last Spots in Cook! Camp

If you wanted to sign your child up for Cook! Camp, do it now, as two camps are sold out, and the other three each have only a few spots remaining. A great week of learning skills that will last a lifetime, friends made, and the greatest reward of all: you will get to let your child or children cook for you, and show off the new skills they’ve learned! Chefs Samantha and Omri are excited about new, fun ideas for camp. Tracy is going to be there a lot—as photographer and not chef this time, as my grandson is due to arrive at the end of July. The interns are geared up to help (we still have a spot for one more intern, if you know a culinary student or young grad who’s interested), and we’re ready to make sure your child or children have a high-quality, delicious week of culinary learning this summer.

A NEW Class—first in what will be a series

We have a new class, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, June 12th—Seasonal Cooking Workshop-Nutritious Eating During and After Pregnancy. Tracy and I will be teaching it together, emphasizing nutrient-dense food and easy preparation. It’s a class for individuals or couples, and the first menu is going to be a delicious one—with West coast king salmon the featured protein, and lots of great accompaniments. This is the first in what we hope will be a successful series, so if you know anyone who might be interested, do pass on the information.

The other June class, Rosetta’s Calabrian Cooking, is sold out—but if you’re interested, get on the waiting list in case she has enough people to add a section.

July 11th, Eric E. Weiss holds his next Knife Sharpening class, so if you’ve missed the last one, sign up! His work was recently featured in the Chronicle, and besides being our long-standing sharpening teacher, sharpens knives at many of the Bay Area’s best restaurants, and at several local farmer’s markets. All his work is by hand—no machines—and you will get your own sharpening stone to take home when you come to class.

In My Opinion

These days cutting edge restaurant cuisine seems to be defined by the ways chefs manipulate ingredients, using a plethora of chemicals to create special effects, and sous vide cooking to hold ingredients at specific temperatures for long periods of time without changing the texture of the food the way cooking it normally would. Kitchens in some new restaurants are starting to resemble mad scientist’s labs as this molecular gastronomy fad rages on. Often, millions are spent on machinery—from multiple sous vide machines to pressure vats for stocks, machinery that (for instance) allows one chef I read about to make smoked ice (I kid you not!). Chemicals with names like ultratex and lucuma and xanthan gum are in vogue, dewars of liquid nitrogen have become a new kitchen fixture, and recipes that have enough complex components to require pages of description, serve chefs who strive for that unique pinnacle of flavor and form that will hopefully, if all goes exceedingly well, make us sigh “ah, that was worth the cost,” whatever that cost may be.

I am of two minds about all this techno-cookery. On the one hand, I love new flavor and texture experiences, and some of this stuff really is good—if you’ve not had an egg yolk cooked sous vide, it’s an experience worth seeking out (if it’s then put to good use in a dish, of course); and also I love to go out and get food I can’t easily re-create. When I don’t get too analytical about what’s on my plate, I mostly enjoy the flavors—but I recently sat at an open-kitchen counter, watching chefs work with tweezers rather than tongs to methodically produce each exacting plate of uniform, ‘perfect’ food, and I was struck by the potential for soullessness in such picayune perfection. It was a second trip, a month apart, to the same Michelin starred restaurant, and I found the dishes monotonously similar to the first visit. The small menu had been adjusted a bit seasonally, but the formula was the same each time, and in every dish, the ingredients listed in the enticing menu description were all there—but some in such micro-amounts they might as well have not been present. I had the feeling many were there so that they could be mentioned, not so that they could add a grace note to the food.

I reserve my conclusions on this new cuisine for a time when I’ve experienced more of it—but I do also question the amount of chemicals, and the heavy use of plastics (a sous vide cooking necessity—did you know the sous vide machine was developed in France 30 years ago, as a means to package frozen food?). By choice, I purchase from the perimeter of the grocery store—fresh foods, rather than things in packages with lots of long-named ingredients; and here we have the cutting edge reliant on these very chemicals. Restaurant cooks routinely make component parts of dishes that can be put together later; in a way, this style defines the difference between restaurant and home cuisine. As long as patrons are there, chefs will strive to create an identity that distinguishes them from the rest, and new creative trends such as this one will be adopted. I can eat at (and afford to try) these places on occasion, but when I want to go out on a night I’ve worked hard and don’t feel like cooking, give me the homier spots, one that makes real food the old-fashioned way, by simply combining quality ingredients that are fresh, local and delicious, making dishes based on what’s good in the market that day. That always makes me sigh with satisfaction.

Recipe of the Month

Sometimes you need a special treat. For instance, as a surprise home-cooked meal for Father’s day. If you don’t mind a little challenge, making a special meal at home has many benefits, both in cost and in this case, in the best left-overs ever to make more special meals. My husband and I started craving some good Maine lobster recently. I went to my favorite Chinese seafood emporium (I love Lucky Seafood, at East 12th St. and 12th Ave. in Oakland, but there are plenty of others; when you’re buying lobster you want it live, in the tank), looking for some Maine lobsters for dinner. All they had were either puny ones that were just too small for my taste (too much work!), and great big denizens of the sea. A five pound lobster with a hard shell (be careful, you don’t want one that just molted or you’ll get huge, empty shells, and later in the summer you’re likely to get just that!) gives you over two pounds of meat. One lobster dinner, one lobster salad lunch, and one unbelievably delicious dinner of lobster cannelloni later, we’ve used up the beast. Not bad for a $40 purchase. Cooking a lobster is ridiculously easy, if you can get beyond the thought of putting him in the pot. About 4 inches of water in your largest stock pot, plenty of salt (like the ocean), and a head-first plunge into the boiling bath followed (for these big guys) by coming back to the boil, and then a rapid simmer, cover on, for 20 minutes, yields perfect lobster.

It’s what to do with the fabulous leftovers that I want to talk about. Lobster has so much flavor, you don’t need to do a whole lot to it—for lobster salad, just chopped celery, mayo, and a bit of salt and pepper and maybe a small squeeze of lemon. But for my Lobster Cannelloni, as hedonistic a treat as you can get, there’s a bit of work involved—not too much, but it does help to have a pasta machine so you can make your own super-thin, delicate sheets of pasta. The pasta recipe makes way more than you need for dinner for two, but it’s also the best pasta for making lasagna—plan ahead with some sauce and filling ingredients from your favorite recipe, and you’ll have a bonus of tomorrow’s dinner too. If you absolutely won’t make the pasta, you can use something store-bought—but thin and delicate pasta really makes this dish special.