Aug 5, 2015

Long Time, No Blog...

Well, well, well...

Hello, dear readers! It's been a hot second since I've written to you (and by "hot second" I mean "six months", but who's counting?...) BUT I'm back. In lieu of posting a recipe or a kitchen disaster (under baked zucchini bread anyone?), I thought I'd post a quick run down of what I've been up to over the last few months, if nothing else to reassure myself that I have indeed been busy. 

So, here's the big stuff:

Chicago Chef's Spring Into Action Event

Last year, while manning the cookie station at a 5k race, (ooo, look! I even blogged about this one.), an awesome lady named Jean approached me about participating in a chefs event to benefit the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network. I was totally interested and flattered, but I didn't even have business cards at the time (shame shame), so I had to write my contact information down on a piece of paper. I figured my professional faux pas was enough for them to write me off, but lo and behold, a few months later, I got a phone call with an official offer to participate in the event. The catch....I needed to make enough pie for 350 people. Three hundred and fifty people. That's just so much pie. For a few seconds, I considered declining the offer, but I got over that pretty quickly, accepted the offer, and called in the recruits. Mom was able to fly in from Birmingham to be my official sous chef and my friend Scottie hooked me up with the Ravenswood Community Kitchen, which graciously donated their kitchen to me for a whole day. 

So, how many ingredients do you really need to make that much pie? Like so much.

Cue the pie prep montage!

So. Much. Pie.

And, we did it! It took 12 hours, but we baked so much pie! Blueberry, goat cheese, and basil pie with caramel and vanilla bean whipped cream for all! And, people seemed to really enjoy it at the event the next day.  Go team! 

Of course, I baked and cooked here and there in between, but my next big culinary events were in June in the very same week.

Private Dinners

Not one, but TWO, private dinners. Eeep! I've cooked for friends and friends of friends, but this would be my first time cooking for people who don't owe me a thing. They'd have no reason to smile and say "It's good," nothing to keep them from holding back their displeasure. Needless to say, I was really nervous. Luckily, I had two amazing soux chefs, who contributed to the menu and the cooking, and made my experience so much better.

The first dinner was on Thursday of that week for a Mom's BYOB club from Temple Sholom. I'd gotten the recommendation from my friend Stephanie Goldfarb, who you might know as the winner of America's Best Cook on Food Network.  Stephanie runs the very popular Seven Species Supper Club, and she forwarded over the ladies' request since her calendar was already full. I was happy but nervous to accept the challenge. To top it off, because, you know, I needed to make things more interesting, I managed to break one of my toes at trapeze class (pretty cool, right?) AND Justin, my incredible sous chef, came down with a righteous respiratory infection. But, we soldiered through, and I'm really proud of the dishes we created. 

Appetizers! Fried okra with garlic aioli, marinated tomato brushcetta, pimento cheese with homemade oat and rosemary crackers. Also featured, amazing platter my Momma sent me. Not feature, all of the other dishes and napkins and everything else she sent me because she's the best.

Justin's incredible cucumber gazpacho garnished with pepperoncini, yogurt, and mint.

Oooooo...watermelon salad. Garnished with goat cheese, pistachios, red onion, and balsamic reduction.

Justin is a mad scientist and made a sous vide fried chicken. Seriously, it is the best chicken ever. Also featured, grilled cajun spiced tofu and collared greens. Not featured, CHEESE GRITS. I was probably too busy tasting them to post a picture. 

Of course, I forgot to take a picture of one of the courses, which was the fried catfish with fennel, carrot, and pickled onion salad, BUT here's a sub-par photo of the dessert course, which was a lemon buttermilk tart with strawberries and homemade lavender ice cream. That ice cream is maybe the best thing I've ever made. 

Whew! One dinner down! I spent the rest of that evening washing all 60+ plates and dishes and drinking the leftover champagne and it was just the best night. I'm still beaming about how proud I am of that meal and the work Justin and I put into it.

Once I returned the rented tables and chairs the next day, it was time to start planning for Sunday's dinner. This particular dinner was an auction prize for a fundraiser for Barrel of Monkeys, an incredible organization full of amazing artists/educators. Luckily, Kate, one of the Monkeys, had volunteered to step up to not only the sous chef role, but to also act as our sommelier for the evening. How fancy! 

First up: a blurry picture of our appetizers. Canape with honey smoked salmon, creme fraise, and chives; deviled eggs with pickled radishes and mustard seed caviar, and finally, a fig and prosciutto flatbread with goat cheese, pine nuts, and arugula. 

Salad course was a marinated heirloom tomato stack with fresh corn and field pies with homemade ranch dressing and a crisp piece of bacon. It was a delicious mess.

The passed entree course was lingunie with seared scallops in a saffron buerre blanc with chives. 

Of course, just like with the first meal, I forgot to take a picture of the main course, which was pork chops with mashed potatoes and rainbow chard with peach mojo as a garnish. But, I did take a picture of the amazing dessert trio we created. You'll see a familiar dish in there with the lemon buttermilk tarts, but I also made bourbon fudge and Kate made some awesome buttered popcorn ice cream.

Phew! Dinner two was a success! It probably didn't hurt that we plied them with booze, but they seemed very pleased with the dinner and Kate and I were tired, but proud. Go team!

So, what's coming up?

Lots. 

I have some desserts and a breakfast lined-up, and I'm promising myself that I'll write here more often, so that I can share my sucesses and experiences with you. So, you can look forward to some more recipes and stories, plus some big news, in the coming months. In the meantime, here's looking at you, kid.