Archive for the 'Other Stuff' Category

Pasta Bolognese: The Last Meal of a Very Pregnant Woman

I figured it would be her last meal. Her last meal before the pregnancy would end and the contractions would start. Well, as I write this, I can tell you that I was wrong. My wife is teetering on the edge of being late, which for a first pregnancy is not a big deal. Yet, I think every woman could agree, after 40 weeks of carrying around extra weight, having swollen ankles, and hearing the creative musings of drunk, almost homeless men describe your belly (My Favorite: “Yo baby, damn, I sure hope that ain’t gas!) – you are ready to get the baby out!

I had been thinking for the past week, what do you make for the pregnant woman who will eat anything (actually I think this describes all pregnant women)? Since it has been a while since I’ve written, I will tell you that pregnancy has caused my wife to dip her toe into the meat lake.  About four months ago, I was eating a burger while she was chowing down on her customary veggie burger (hence the name of the blog). But I could tell something was amiss, it took me a second to realize that my wife could not stop staring at my beef burger (This is not a sexual allusion people). It was kinda creepy. I asked her if she had a problem or she wanted a bite. She said, “I think I want a bite.” Two seconds later, there was meat juices running down her chin.  I haven’t seen Twilight, but now, I think I understand. My veggie wife scarfing down a burger as if she just came back from a deserted island, WOW!   Just before you make conclusions, my wife still does not eat a ton of meat, all the meat is from “happy animals” and she is likely to return to her veggie ways after the birth.

From what I read, labor is like a marathon only it’s longer, more painful, and people don’t ask you how you trained. With all this in mind, I made my wife Pasta Bolognese with homemade fettucini. Labor can last two days with almost no sleep and then pushing which, to continue the metaphor, is like a long distance sprint.

When I was working in the kitchens of Hugo’s restaurant, I used to make the pasta seemingly everyday. It was always on my prep list. I wasn’t always psyched to see it. It requires 12 egg yolks, 2 eggs, and a hell of alot of kneading by hand (at least 25 minutes until it felt like a woman’s breast). This meal was an act of carb load love. At the end of the day, this pasta is always beautiful. It is so tender and rich, all pasta should be like it. The pasta could be eaten on its own.

The sauce was its own project. I really like taking brunoise cut mirepox, and cooking it down over a low heat with plenty of salt, olive oil, and butter. I think you cook it on the stove top for about three hours till it becomes almost a glassy paste. The paste is awesome, if poorly named. Also, it makes a great base for a sauce. Next thing I know, I am browning the meat, adding the mirepox, pouring in the white wine to reduce, next add some tomato product, and you are done. It was really good and worth the effort. I think I would want this as my last meal.

Next time I write, I will have spit up on my collar and a smile on my face and in my heart.

Pig Island, Sadly Missing the Pina Coladas

 

cleaver

The Starting Line

 

I have been talking about Pina Coladas for the past three months.  Not because a couple of “hippish” bars have started to serve them.  No, it’s because of my love for a crazy light rock song called “Escape.”  You’ve probably heard the song and not thought twice about it. It’s main hook is, “If you like Pina Coladas and long walks in the rain…” This Summer when my Wife told me of the meaning of this song, no exaggeration, it changed my life. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. The song tells the story of a married couple who secretly put personal ads in the local paper looking for Pina Colada fans, only to end up reuniting with each other. I am getting off topic. The song is funny and it reminded me to start drinking frozen drinks again…

Anyway, Pig Island wasn’t a pina colada type of island, but it was amazing nonetheless.  Jimmy of Jimmy’s 43, that impresario of locavore events, organized it.  He arranged for every chef to get up to five local pigs to serve to the public. Awesome. Of course Nick and I got the maximum amount of pigs to go to town with. We spent forever and a half to come up with our dish. The main road block was that I hate potato salad. I have never had a good one. Deli potato salad is disgusting, warm potato salad is usually greasy and gross. I ask you: how many potato salads have you had that have been undercooked, over mayo-ed, bland, etc?  Lame-O is that potat-O salad. Have I made myself clear? So, Nick wanted to serve our dish with his vinegar-salt potato salad and I kept saying, NO there must be something better. He kept at it. Realizing that we are not a fully functioning restaurant with a budget, potato salad started to make sense. Well, I will be honest..it was pretty good potato salad that complimented our dish nicely. So what did we serve with the potato salad?  read on…

 

caja china

caja china at work

 

We butchered a pig and then made pulled pork out of the legs and shoulders, and brined the carcass/belly flap. Then, we stuffed the de-boned pig carcass with the pulled pork, lemon braised fennel, and cooked it in the caja china till the skin turned crispy. It was fucking awesome. I made two sauces: a reduced pork demi-glace that I buttered out and a chimichurri aioli. So, the dish was pork stuffed pork with pork demi-glace, chimichurri aioli, and potato salad. I was proud. Nick was proud. I think we were a little bummed that it wasn’t a competition. We treated it as a competition – stayed up till three am three nights in a row (looks like we would have gotten votes from the volunteer crew too!).

 

pginpig

Pig Stuffed Pig

 

But there were other great dishes…

People could not stop eating the bacon sticky buns from the desert chef of  Print Restaurant in The Ink Hotel. I’m not saying how many I had, but it was more than one. Plus, Matthew Weingarten of Inside Park at St. Barts made one the best sausages I have had in recent memory. It was a sausage made from the entire pig, skin and all. It was juicy and peppery, really to my liking- perfectly seasoned.

 

Lab

The Lab

 

The real beauty of the event for me was the opportunity to butcher five whole pigs. Since I left professional kitchens, I do not get that chance often. I think by the third pig, Stella Got Her Groove Back! The butchering made the whole event worth it. Also, the space Nick found to do the prep work was amazing. All alone, I butchered the pigs in a ginormous waterfront sound stage in Williamsburg. Such a New York moment. The space was the size of three football fields, painted black, and pitch dark except for a lone spotlight focused on the pig. I was able to drive my car inside to where I was working and play the radio. It was a special night.

 

Head

hello there

 

leg

more Pig Island pics

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If You Want To Cater Your Own Wedding – Must Have Friends!

Checkin the Pig

Checkin the Pig

When I asked my now patient WIFE whether I should write about catering my own wedding or about the amazing food we ate on our honeymoon in Malaysia, she was quick to reply. “Write about catering the wedding, people love hearing about people being foolish.”

I don’t know how I didn’t lose it. I still have the advice of my new Father-in-Law echoing in my head, “Keep it simple Theo.” At least give me a chance to explain myself. If you have had a wedding or just paid for one, you realize that a huge portion of your budget goes to the caterer. We were on a limited budget and I always envisioned great food at my wedding. So why would I pay someone a huge chuck of cash to serve mediocre canapés?

But let me emphasize, my wedding did not just feature my food nor did it rely solely on my shoulders. As I said, if you are crazy enough to attempt this yourself, you must have wonderful friends.

Let me back up a couple of years – I moved to Portland, Maine in 2005 immediately following culinary school. I was attracted to its reputation as an up and coming food center. It has some great chefs working there and wonderful local ingredients. Even though I did not have a good time living there (probably because I relocated with my girlfriend at the time who turned out to be… I am not going to go there). Anyway, I met two wonderful people working in kitchens up there, and it made me realize how life can work in mysterious ways. To meet friends like MA and Camile, you normally have to endure many years in many different kitchens. They are both incredibly talented chefs that I would turn over a kitchen to in a heartbeat.

I remember having discussions with Camille about the menu. I thought I had everything under control, but without using my own kitchen to stage the event I was in trouble early. Breakdowns and chaos reigned supreme. Let me emphasize that this was on my end, not on my friends’ end. I was turning into the Incredible Hulk. Weeks before the wedding I started prepping stuff for the freezer. My first thought was to grind, stuff, and freeze as much sausage as humanly possible in the weeks prior to the wedding. Plus, I could make all the sauces a week out from the wedding. I could also make all the charcuterie for the wedding as well. I had a plan damn it!

Everything under control

The menu was supposed to be a blend of several ideas, but I wanted it to be easy. It relied heavily on the grill. The roast pig was meant to express a bit of my bride’s half-Latina heritage. (Nick came through with the pig box – now he is starting his own company – one man, one pig. I think you get the idea. Yet he did not seem too happy when cleaning the damn box or when he stepped in poop.) And there were French Fries with numerous sauces to please the Belgian half of my bride. What about my full Jewish two halves? Since I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, I went with a lot of pigs in a blanket (it doesn’t get any better than that), yet the friggin caterer couldn’t serve them hot for Christ sake!

Sausage

Bratwurst and seafood sausage

Lobster Roll
Lobster Roll

Friday was the toughest day. My friends arrived and I was already in the weeds. I can’t explain the emotion, but I just simply started crying into Camile’s shoulder. I was late to my own rehearsal at the barn, I showed up wearing an apron. I do not really know how they did it or how they did it so well. But without them, there wouldn’t have been a wedding. On Saturday, when I started freaking out, Camile was there to calm me down. She is a true friend who together with MA really knows how to cook. By catering my own wedding a learned more about friendship than food.

In the end, a wedding isn’t about the food.  The food doesn’t matter. It is the very real and very blessed union of two people who love and respect each other. I love my wife, and I will never cater another wedding again. But I am not saying anything about when we renew our vows…

Leaving

Heading straight to the bar

By the way, if you live up north – in Maine – and you need someone to cater an event, let me know. I know two people who would be perfect.

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The New Year – What does it really mean?

First off, it means a really cool article in the Brooklyn Paper that placed me and my partner in the top 20 to watch in ’10. I like the affirmation of an article that tells me that the next year is going to be good.

Theo and Nick

One Year Later…

How Am I Doin?

How Am I Doin?

I realized last night (when I started this post it was “last night”) that it had been a year since I began this quixotic quest to recover.  Recover basically after I lost it all. This has been no easy task. I got so close to owning my own business that sometimes I lose sleep at night thinking about it. I have had so many restless nights that my light sleeping Girlfriend is more tired than she needs to be.

What could have been a terrible year has turned out to be surprisingly uplifting. I was just thinking about my choice of word, uplifting. I feel more positive about my future even though I do not show it for fear of ruining my reputation as a neurotic Jew. I will admit that most of it is due to my incredibly supportive, super patient Girlfriend.

casserole crazy 2008

the crowning of last year's king

The reason for looking back is that last night was the Casserole Crazy contest at Brooklyn Label. A year ago I was introduced to the world of competitive cooking and was anointed Casserole King. Though I did not win last night’s casserole contest, I realized later on (much later on) that I didn’t care about winning. All I had to do was look around and see how it has all changed for the better.  I was happy that my friend won the contest. A friend I did not have a year ago. I am writing about it on a blog that I did not have a year ago. A year ago I lived alone in Manhattan. Now, I am in an apartment that I share with the Girlfriend in BROOKLYN. This makes me really happy. Is this getting sappy yet? I could get a lot worse. I mean, the new apartment is filled with mosquitoes and it is October.

To be honest, I thought that I would have a clear direction by now, that I would be laser focused on a single challenge. Yet, I feel constantly pulled in different directions. I have the cooking competitions, freelance catering gigs, underground restaurant work, paté entrepreneur, consulting, etc. It might seem great to have unique challenges present themselves constantly, but the grass in always greener. The idea of one solid paycheck is tempting. It would ease my worried heart. I live in New York, not South Dakota. You need a good paycheck. How else am I going to eat well? My friends, I like to eat well….

Overall, I’m happy-ish and that is alright for now.

casserole

Kentucky Fried Casserole - yum

 

 

30 Pounds of Brats? No Problem

How Do You Turn This…

All you need on a desert island

All you need on a desert island

Into This…

Sweet Love

Sweet Love

Simple.  It’s all explained in this great video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.Bratwurst with Theo Peck | Working Class Foodies

It’s October, the leaves are starting to change, the temperature is getting cooler, and you are starting to think about two things: beer & bratwurst. At least that’s what I am thinking about. So I figured that it was no coincidence that in the past month I was asked twice to make brats. What exactly are brats? Let’s consult the experts on everything- Wikipedia. Actually, I just read the definition on Wikipedia and it made no sense.  I hope a true bratwurst historian has some time to clean that up. Anyway, my definition is much more concise. A bratwurst is a sausage that usually has not only pork and fat back, but also veal. In addition, it is emulsified with more fat (cream and eggs) and heavily seasoned with ginger, nutmeg, and white pepper.

We, the American people, believe that no Oktoberfest would be complete without the Bratwurst so why should you?  I am here to tell you is that making sausage is easy. It might take a little more time, but I believe it is worth it. Why? Well, have you ever noticed that almost every sausage you get at the store tastes the same. That is because they are all the same. The difference with my Brats is grinding the nutmeg and dried ginger with a microplane just before using them. It enhances the spices, creating a well seasoned piece of cheap meat.

My first brat experience this month occurred when the good people over at Working Class Foodies, Rebecca and Max (who are award winning contestants at my Food Experiments) asked me to help out on their web tv show. They wanted to do an episode on making bratwurst.  Little did they know I was a professional. It was a great experience that I do not need to write about because the video does such a good job. Check out some of their other videos at hungrynation.tv.

My second brat-portunity came when the Bell House asked me to cater their awesome Octoburlesk party. What better to add to semi naked ladies and a polka band then a grill filled with homemade brats?  I will be up front with you. I did not realize how difficult it would be to make 30 pounds of brats in my tiny kitchen. It was a long and arduous. Two full days went into the prep. My hand went numb after trimming 30 pounds of pork butt and 10 pounds of fat back. I had Nick Suarez come over and help.  Sadly, all he got to do was grind a shit load of spices.

So here’s how to get from a whole lotta meat to a whole lotta brats:

1. Cut the meat

Pork Butt Whole

Pork Butt Whole

2. Do not forget to find the glands and cut them out.

Garbage

Garbage

3. Dice and Grind

Dice, Spice, & Grind

Dice, Spice, & Grind

4. Emulsify with Cream and Eggs

Beat the Meat

Beat the Meat

5. Stuff, Stuff, and Stuff…This is 30 pounds people, this takes a while

Keep on Stuffin'

Keep on Stuffin'

Now we tie them, poach them in beer, and get them to the damn Bell House. Oops, I almost forgot. I must make a ton of curry aioli. I was thinking of the curry wurst idea, but I hate ketchup on my sausages, and so should you. So, instead I made the aioli, and it was frickin’ delicious. I made it spicy with roasted curry powder, turmeric, cumin, and a ton of raw and poached garlic. I wish I had pictures of it’s neon yellow deliciousness…

I had no idea what to expect at Octobulesk. Anywhere between 100 and 200 people were expected. That is a large gap. Plus, did people really want to eat my brats? Who was I? I was very worried on my way to the event trying to decide where I was going to keep all the extra brats. I kept imagining my vegetarian girlfriend looking in the freezer and seeing all her green peas and veggie burgers displaced, made refugees by my 30 pound tribe of brats.

I get to the Bell House and I see Nick’s friendly face. He didn’t seemed worried. Why should he? There was no spice grinder in sight. Super friendly GM William was nowhere to be seen. I was confused until I realized that he was putting on the super good looking lederhosen.  Yet, somehow, when you combine October, Beer, and Brats, shorts with suspender don’t look so bad.  Will wasn’t the only one…there was a polka band:

Fashion?

Fashion?

I started to relax once the sweet girlfriend arrived sporting the cute German girl braids.  I find those braids so cute, why? I do not really like Germans, being jewish and all….

Nick and I calmly set up shop expecting a long night of slow grilling. We got our tongs and game faces together.

Ready

Ready, set, grill

This is the last time we were still for the next hour and half. The crowd that lingered before we were ready turned into a deluge… I was beside myself with joy, everything was moving so fast. All I had time to do was look down and make brats “all the way” which means with curry aioli, sweet onion, and kraut. Thank god the reliable Nate came by to say hi. You might remember him from the Underground Restaurant.  Well, Nate just put on a pair of rubber gloves and jumped right in, no questions asked. So Nick maned the grill, I took orders and transferred from grill to bun, Nate dressed them up, and girlfriend took the money (her specialty). She did not let one person pass unpaid for, she is tough for a veggie.

just getting started

just getting started

and going, and going, and going

and going

lining up for brats

We started with 125 brats, and 156 buns. I brought a spare pork belly, originally to share with the GM. I had invited him to the house last week and we had to cancel at the last minute. I felt terrible so I brought the belly for him to eat. It was a great idea, but for a different reason.  We ended up selling all the pork belly as well.  Sorry Will.

I was super excited that we sold out within an hour and fifteen minutes, but I felt like shit because there were people still on line. I never expected this outcome. The nicest thing I saw was the customers upfront ordering less so the ones left on line could still have some.  There’s nothing more heartwarming than a crowd of sympathetic sausage lovers.

The “I’m Sorry I killed Jesus” Easter Basket

What kind of candy would Jesus eat?

What kind of candy would Jesus eat?

When you are a Jew, what do you get the christian girl on Easter? How do you truly say your sorry? Doesn’t time heal all wounds? How were we supposed to know he was the son of G-d? So, I thought long and hard about what would Jesus want on the anniversary of his death. Even though he was a member of the tribe, he still probably wouldn’t want chocolate covered matzoh. I think he along with his dad created all the cream filled eggs because they think cream filled eggs are delicious.

So girlfriend: I am sorry for the way history went down. Please remember, I wasn’t there, but I am sure a great-great uncle was…


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