Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for February, 2007
Now that I have hundreds of miles and numerous races behind me it’s easy to forget what it’s like to face your first race. I was chatting with a gal before our Pilates class the other night and she was full of trepidation over the upcoming St. Patty’s Day Dash — a 5K fun run. Not only will it be her first race, she hasn’t yet run 3 miles.
I gave her a pep talk (I’ve run the dash 10 times and may do so again this year), assuring her that she’ll not only make it, but will have a ton of fun (more than 12,000 people run it each year, many in costume). But our discussion really brought things into perspective and I had to give myself a pat on the back. You see, I’m at the point where a 5K is what I run when I don’t feel like running.
You’ve most likely had those days: you’re dog-tired, but your training log is beckoning you to run. My current training calls for 30-45 minutes of running twice a week (4-6 miles), with a long run on the weekend. While I’ve been diligent with my long runs, sometimes I just can’t muster the motivation to do the weekday runs. My darling also falls prey to such slackitivity (if that’s not a word, then it should be), and we can be very bad influences on each other. But before we succumb to the couch’s siren call one of us (typically my darling) will spur us toward Greenlake — a 3.2 mile jaunt at the most (the inside loop is even shorter — 2.8 miles). We can complete the entire trip in less than 30 minutes, including the walk to and from the lake.
Although I don’t remember much from my first race (the 5K Teddy Bear Tunnel Run in 1990), I do remember feeling nervous about being the last to cross the finish line. My concerns were for naught, as my friend and I finished well ahead of many others, despite walking the last mile or so. That was the last time I felt nervous before a running race, although the feeling returned this past summer before my first triathlon. It’s more the fear of the unknown — of what to expect — than the worry about finishing that causes this anxiety. After all, the way I train now, I’ve already run the distance required for the race long before the race itself.
So, will the fear return before my marathon? Hopefully not. But considering I’m a novice traveler who does not speak French, I’m sure there’ll be some restless nights.
I’m always looking for new recipes and techniques to share with my clients, but I don’t always get the chance to test them beforehand. Fortunately I’ve been a personal chef long enough to know whether a recipe is going to be a dud just be reading it (or least 99 times out of 100).
My Monday client — a Martha devotee — recently gave me Ms. Stewart’s recipe for Meatball and Escarole Soup to prepare for her. It’s basically a version of Italian Wedding Soup as far as I can tell: beef & pork meatballs simmered in chicken broth with escarole and kidney beans. I agreed with my client that it sounded like a very tasty recipe.
Because she’s on a lowfat diet, I made a few modifications. I used a combination of white and dark ground turkey instead of the beef and pork, and I baked the meatballs rather than fried them (I actually prepare most of my meatballs this way, unless I really need the fond — or brown bits — for a sauce). Martha also calls for currants in the meatballs, but I left them out (okay, so I forgot to put them in!) I did add a bit of Italian parsley though. Once the meatballs are cooked you simmer them in the broth until the escarole is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
As the the soup was simmering away on my client’s stove I just had to take a taste. Yum-scrumptious. I knew then what my darling and I would be having for dinner. Served with a few slices of crusty bread (Essential Bakery’s Rosemary Diamante is particularly good) and you have yourself a quick, easy and satisfying weeknight meal.
Meatball and Escarole Soup
Adapted from Martha Stewart
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound ground white turkey
1/2 pound ground dark turkey
4 cups chicken broth
1 head escarole, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Preheat oven to 400. Crumble bread in a bowl and add buttermilk. Mash to a paste. Mix in onion, oregano, parsley and salt and pepper. Gently mix in ground turkey. Form into 2″ meatballs and place on a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until browned.
Bring chicken broth to a boil, add escarole and cooked meatballs and reduce to a simmer. Cook until escarole is tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Add kidney beans and adjust seasonings.
Now that I’m a personal chef I’ve become much more generous with tips. While I used to consider 15% a good tip, 20% is now the norm for good service; 25-30% for stellar. But I’m a bit stumped when it comes to dealing with poor service. The hospitality business is tough work, so I’m hesitant to totally stiff someone. But does leaving even a measly tip reward bad behavior? Is it better to leave nothing at all? My darling and I debated this issue on Saturday during an unfortunate restaurant experience.
We were scheduled for an 11 1/2 mile run, which meant we would treat ourselves to burgers & beer afterwards (they’re an incredible motivator, especially as we near mile eight). We discussed several options, and settled on a pub that not only has great food and drinks, but also a relaxed and comfy ambiance (VERY important for our soon-to-be weary muscles). It’s one we frequent fairly often (as well as others in the pub’s chain), so we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed.
Given my profession and business name, one might think I’m an oven aficionado. Sure, having cooked with several over the past six years, I’ve formed some pretty strong opinions (I’ve never met a JennAir I like). I know what features are important, and which are marketing hype (TRI-vection? What the heck is THAT?) But I have a confession: when it comes to purchasing an oven, I’m a greenhorn.
That’s about to change.
When my darling and I moved into our house almost 10 years ago, we inherited a crappy electric range (along with a crappy refrigerator and even crappier washing machine and dryer). But funds were tight, so we vowed not to replace any of the appliances until absolutely necessary. The dryer was first to go belly-up, followed a few months later by the washing machine. The refrigerator is still working, but it’s now our spare (I bought a new fridge three years ago with the tip I received from a week-long cheffing stint on a yacht). As for the oven, the electric one was replaced by a KitchenAid gas convection range six years ago. But here’s the rub: it was a freebie!
Once I became a personal chef I wanted to upgrade to a gas range. But funds were still tight, so we waited. By happenstance we bumped into a friend of ours who was getting ready to haul his rental house range (the KitchenAid) to the dump. It still worked, but needed a new spark module. He recently had to replace the tempered glass surface after his tenant dropped a pan on it, so he wasn’t looking forward to shelling out more money for the spark module. We gladly took the range — which cost about $1,600 new — off his hands.
We fully intended to get the spark module replaced, but just didn’t get around to it. When the range was plugged in, all four burners would spark. But we didn’t need to plug it in to operate the stovetop; we just lit the burners by hand. It had to be plugged in to use the oven, but we got used to our “metronome.” We actually put up with it for two years until the oven went kaput. The repairs were $400, but at least we could now keep the range plugged in full time.
Disaster struck this past October (or more accurately, a bottle of pomegranate molasses struck after tumbling out of the cabinet above):
It was amazing; it shattered in an instant, yet kept crackling for more than half an hour. So far none of the glass shards have loosened, but spills have seeped down into the cracks (so it will never look clean). I thought about replacing the surface, but hesitated at the $500-600 price tag (at least that’s what my friend spent more than six years ago). I also toyed with buying a new range (my dream is to have a 5-burner Viking), but feel it’s ludicrous to put a high-end appliance in our current house (it’s a teeny-tiny hovel built in 1906. I don’t even think the floor joists could withstand the weight). A Viking would be the crown jewel of our home. It would be like placing a Renoir in, well, in our home. We’d rather wait to buy quality appliances until we tear down the current structure and rebuild (we hoped to do that this year, but realistically it won’t happen until next).
Alas, we’re now forced to make a decision as the oven has once again gone kaput. While the broiler works fine, it can take up to an hour to heat up to 500 degrees (the temperature at which we bake our beloved pizza). Although that’s not too terribly problematic, the fact gas fumes permeate the house as it’s heating is indeed extremely troublesome. Given the range is at least nine years old, it would be best to replace than try to fix. sigh.
Thanks to “Consumer Reports” I’ve identified a couple of candidates (convection would be nice, but I’m more concerned with high BTUs). I also found a couple of promising ranges on Craigslist that would be considerably cheaper than new. Of course, the timing totally sucks as tomorrow is the Super Bowl and I had a hankering for my baked buffalo wings.
I have an interesting relationship with cookbooks. I’m drawn to those that feature stunning pictures and mouth-watering recipes, but as a chef I challenge myself to craft my own creations. As my skills improve, I’m less inclined to purchase a “cookbook” than a book that features techniques. My favorite culinary game is to pick an ingredient (typically one I happen to have in the fridge), turn to “Culinary Artistry” and come up with a unique recipe.
However, when I was devising my goals for 2007, I decided I should give my neglected cookbooks another chance (I have about 50). My first experiment was from Madhur Jaffrey’s “World Vegetarian” for Malaysian Curried Pineapple (I had purchased the book four years ago when I signed on a vegetarian client. I no longer cook for them). As always, I added my signature to the dish and included tofu for some protein. It was okay, but not stellar (hence no blog entry).
My next target was “Tom’s Big Dinners” by Tom Douglas, a local restaurateur. I’ve prepared several recipes from both this cookbook and his first, “Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen,” with great results. I had a bunch of flank steak in my freezer, so I was intrigued by his Olive-stuffed Flank Steak with Tomato Confit — more for the technique than the actual recipe. When I prepare flank steak, a relatively tough cut of meat, I either briefly grill it or stuff and braise it for 1 1/2-2 hours. Tom’s recipe called for searing the steak then roasting it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes; interesting!
I fully intended to follow the recipe verbatim and then post a review, but reality has a funny way of intervening. I nixed the tomato confit from the get-go since no amount of slow roasting would coax any flavor out of winter tomatoes. The recipe calls for Kalamatas, but amazingly I had none. Normally I’d just head to the store, but my 8-mile run sapped my energy. I perused the contents of my fridge and found a jar of jalapeÃ±o-stuffed olives (not the double-stuffed ones; those are saved for my martinis). Inspired, I decided to veer completely from the recipe and concoct my own, stuffing the steak with the olives, cilantro, Cougar Gold cheese and pine nuts and serving it with Herdez salsa. Yum!
My darling has had a love affair with Paris ever since his 6-month stay in college. He’s vowed to take his lovely bride to the City of Light someday, so when we heard about the Marathon du Medoc, we were captivated. Running+drinking+France: now THAT’S a winning combination. That the race is held the weekend before our 7-year wedding anniversary was the cerise sur le gÃ¢teau.
“How perfect,” we thought. We’d begin our journey in Paris, strolling hand-in-hand along the banks of the Seine nibbling on a crusty baguette and wedge of brie. We’d meander down to Bordeaux for the race and accompanying festivities, then head to Provence to savor the sights and smells of the countryside. I envisioned a romantic 2-week celebration of our love where we affirm the endurance of our adoration and faithfulness while testing the stamina of our bodies.
That is, of course, if my darling doesn’t divorce me first.