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HAPPY MOUTH — July 2007

Tonight was Ted’s HAPPY MOUTH selection, and he chose RED in Hyde Park. RED is a new-ish restaurant in a traditionally difficult space. The long, dark, shotgun-style room feels intimate, but diners don’t feel like they’re sitting on top of each other. Our long table was near the back of the restaurant in the center.

Wendy tried their Lobster Bisque (which was velvety smooth and lovely) and I had a Seared Foie Gras appetizer, which was excellent. For my main, I had their Roasted Duck Breast with Lo Mein, Hoisin Butter, and Green Mango Relish and Wendy had a Gnocchi special. Her Gnocchi were light and flavorful and she made reasonably quick work of them. My duck was mostly well-prepared, but the fat had not been rendered out of the skin, leaving it flabby and inedible, plus the seasoning on it was very heavy and masked the rich flavor of the duck.

For dessert, Wendy & I split a lemon tart with fresh berries and a glass of Moscato d’Asti — a perfect pairing.

A very good pick, Ted!

Dinner at Jean-Robert at Pigall's, Saturday June 23, 2007

On Saturday, June 23, 2007, Wendy & I dined at Jean-Robert at Pigall’s. It had been a while since we’d eaten there (once in February with the HAPPY MOUTH SUPPER CLUB; before that, the last time Wendy & I dined there alone was September 2006), so we were very excited to get back. We arrived just in time for our 8:00 reservation and were immediately shown to a private booth near the center of the restaurant by Richard Brown. “This is a very romantic booth; very private,” we were told as we sat down.

Soon, Renee (the sommelier for the evening since Jason was away at “Pinot Camp”) came back with two glasses of bubbling Andre’ et Mireille Tissot “Pigall’s Label” Cremant du Jura, N/V, a nice welcome from the Chef. Angie (our new server since Tammy left) told us that Chef wanted to select our meal that night. We agreed that it was a fabulous idea (always accept this if you’re offered!) and settled in for an epic meal.

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RECIPE 27: Chestnut And Chocolate Cake

                      -= Exported from BigOven =-

                     Chestnut And Chocolate Cake

This classic unbaked “cake” is for people who like dense, assertive chocolate desserts. It’s super-easy — requiring only moments to combine the ingredients — and extremely rich. Cans of pureed chestnuts flavored with vanilla and sugar come from the South of France and are available in specialty and gourmet markets. This puree is also wonderful served on its own or over ice cream.

Recipe By: FAST FOOD MY WAY by Jacques Pepin, page 193
Serving Size: 10
Cuisine: French
Main Ingredient: Chocolate
Categories: Desserts

-= Ingredients =-
1/4 teaspoon Vegetable Oil ; for Oiling The Pan
1 ea 1 pound c Chestnut Puree ; or Spread With Sugar
2 tablespoon Dark Rum
1/2 tablespoon Unsalted Butter ; At Room Temperature
8 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate ; Melted
1 cup Creme Fraiche ; or Sour Cream

-= Instructions =-
Oil a rectangular loaf pan with a capacity of 3 to 4 cups. Cut a thin strip of parchment paper (wide enough to cover the bottom of the loaf pan and long enough so that the ends extend out of the loaf pan). This will make it easier to unmold the dessert at serving time. Alternatively, if you don’t want to unmold the dessert, you can using a serving bowl or terrine.

Put the chestnut puree in a large bowl and add the rum, butter, and melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly to combine and pour the mixture into the pan or bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or up to a couple of days).

At serving time, unmold the cake onto a serving platter and cut it into 6 or 8 slices (or spoon it out of the bowl). Spoon some creme fraiche (or sour cream) over each slice and serve.

** This recipe can be pasted into BigOven without retyping. BigOven.com ID= 161360 **
** Easy recipe software.  Try it free at: http://www.bigoven.com    **

RECIPE 26: Braised Lamb Shanks

                      -= Exported from BigOven =-

                         Braised Lamb Shanks

This is without a doubt the most requested recipe I’ve ever created. Lamb shanks are one of the cuts of meat that benefit most from long, slow braising. Don’t omit the step of turning the shanks every half hour; it causes them to caramelize even as they braise. If the braising liquid seems too reduced at the end of the cooking process, stir 1 cup of water into the liquid before straining. Demi-glace is veal stock that has been reduced by half. High-quality prepared versions are available at gourmet shops. Serve this with any full-bodied red wine.

Serve this with Soft Polenta, Tomato-Thyme Risotto, Potato Puree, or Roasted Garlic and White Bean Puree.

Recipe By: GlobalGourmet.com
Serving Size: 6
Cuisine: French
Main Ingredient: Lamb
Categories: Lamb, Main Dish

-= Ingredients =-
6 ea Lamb Foreshanks
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
to taste Coarse Salt
to taste Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 ea ribs Celery ; Roughly Chopped
1 ea Carrot ; Roughly Chopped
1 ea large Spanish Onion ; Roughly Chopped
1/2 cup Tomato Paste
5 ea sprigs Fresh Thyme
1 ea Bay Leaf
1 tablespoon Black Peppercorns
1 ea whole Garlic ; Cut In Half
1 bottle Red Wine ; Shiraz Is Nice
1/3 cup White Vinegar
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 cup Demi-Glace ; or 2 Cups Veal Stock
2 cups Chicken Stock
~~ GARNISH ~~
8 ounces Pearl Onions ; Peeled and stem end removed
3 ounces Sugar
3/4 cup Water
8 ounces Button Mushrooms
3 ounces Bacon Lardons

-= Instructions =-
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Season the lamb shanks liberally with salt and pepper. With a sharp knife, cut about 1 inch from the bottom (narrow end) of the shank bones down to the bone and all the way around; this will help expose the bone while cooking. Set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery, carrot, and onion to the pot. Cook until very soft, 8-10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste. Cook 1-2 minutes until nicely browned.

Add the thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, and garlic. Cook another 2-3 minutes.

Add the red and white wine, vinegar, and sugar, raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to medium and add the demi-glace (or veal stock) and chicken stock. Leave over medium heat while you brown the shanks.

Dredge the shanks in flour, shaking off excess. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, brown the shanks well in the remaining 1/2 cup oil on both sides, about I minute for each of 3 sides. Use tongs to flip them over.

Transfer the shanks to a roasting pan and pour the stock mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil or a lid and cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and cook for another 3 hours, TURNING THE SHANKS OVER EVERY HALF HOUR until the meat is very soft. (Can be prepared to this point up to one day in advance. If preparing ahead, skim fat from sauce, bring meat to room temperature, and reheat in a medium oven.)

While the shanks are cooking, prepare the GARNISH.

Remove the shanks from the braising liquid and strain the liquid. Skim any fat that rises to the surface and use the liquid as a sauce.

GARNISH:Put the peeled and trimmed pearl onions into a medium pan. Mix sugar into water and add this mixture to the onions. Cover with a round of parchment paper. Put onions over medium-high heat and cook down, shaking the pan occasionally, until the onions are a rich, roasted color and are soft.

In a seperate pan, render the lardons and cook the button mushrooms in the bacon fat over medium heat until cooked through and tender.

Dress the plate with a few pearl onions and mushrooms.
** This recipe can be pasted into BigOven without retyping.     **
** Easy recipe software.  Try it free at: http://www.bigoven.com    **

CULINARY: Pigall’s night — Jun. 16 2007

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I worked in the kitchens of Jean-Robert at Pigall’s. It was a good evening to work — the Chef de Cuisine and one of the line cooks were both out. Adequate plans for coverage were made, though — the sous chef from one of Jean-Robert’s other restaurants worked the “middle” (between fish and meat), I was there, and there were two high school-aged girls volunteering as well. It’s rare to see volunteers there because the kitchen is so small, but the girls stayed mostly out of the way.

Before service, I assisted with general prep. When Chef arrived, he pulled me downstairs to assist him (it was fun for me in a weird way to re-assign my mise en place to the high-school girls) with butchery & fish mongering. I worked my way (slowly, Chef would tell you!) through several skate wings and beef tenderloins. I enjoy butchery and fish mongering and have some skill at it (though I am a little bit slow, Chef would probably point out again, poking me in the ribs with his finger), and it was nice to give these skills a workout — not something I get to do often. An added perk was that Chef worked with me for much of the butchery. We had a good conversation while we worked, a rare luxury in such a busy kitchen.

After cleaning up from the butchery, I moved upstairs and shadowed Abby on Hot Appetizers for service. I helped with the soup and ravioli dishes, and helped Abby wherever I could. I didn’t start out the evening very helpfully — the first thing I did was drop a sizzle plate loudly to the floor (“it’s going to be that kind of night,” I thought). I messed up a couple other things that put Abby in the weeds, but she was cool and collected through the first turn. Or perhaps she was just relishing the quiet because she over-celebrated her 25th birthday the night before… I got my shit together for the second turn and feel like I contributed. Since morel mushrooms are in season, we sold a bunch of them — more than 20 orders, I think.

At one point during service, we ran out of prepared skate so Chef pulled me from Hot Apps and sent me downstairs to fabricate a few more. I busted them out, brought them up to Chef, and cleaned up. After service, Chef said that he was impressed that I jumped out, did what was necessary, and jumped back in.

After service, Chef asked if I wanted a soft-shell crab, which is currently on our menu. I said sure (it is bad form to say no when a chef offers you food!). The fish guy (Rob) told me that he’d cook it but I had to prep the crab. So, I followed the instructions Abby told me: “Step 1: Cut off the face with these scissors. Step 2: Lift up the skirt and cut out the gills. Step 3: Pull the tab (near the crab’s butt) and cut it off”. Abby has a hard time getting past the “cut off the face” part, but that doesn’t give me a problem. In culinary school, I went around behind the chef-instructor’s back and dispatched the lobsters of squeemish classmates. On Valentine’s Day (we call it amateur night) at the restaurant, I had to prep, dispatch, and par-cook 75 lobsters. The prep involved inserting a “booty stick” in the lobster’s, well…, booty (to keep the tail from curling when cooked) before dropping it in boiling water. After a few minutes, they were shocked in icy water and I broke down the bodies and cut their faces off for garnish.

Rob pan-fried the crab and served it with sauteed vegetables including fennel & fingerling potatoes and a caper buerre noir over top. It was delicious! I noticed that any time I’d turn my back on the plate, bits of the crab would disappear as my co-workers snuck samples. Fine with me.

After service was over, I helped everyone break down their stations and prepare to shut down the restaurant for their “weekend” — no service on Sunday or Monday. I was ready to go out for drinks, but owing to the over-celebration the night before, no one wanted to indulge, so I headed home, tired but happy to have helped out.

Upon reflection on the night, I feel like I passed a threshold in the restaurant with my participation during prep and service. I am not currently able to articulate what threshold it was exactly, but it feels like something very positive. I really enjoy working at Jean-Robert at Pigall’s.

Reactive Telemarketing

TelephoneSince stumbling upon Counterscript some time ago, I have been on a relentless campaign against telemarketers that enter my home through the telephone. My campaign is called “Reactive Telemarketing”.

Whenever a telemarketer calls, I immediately begin asking them questions as listed on the Counterscript (though I do not follow it precisely). Most of the time, the telemarketers don’t mind spelling their name, or telling me how long they’ve been in ‘the business’ (I am surprised at how often their reply is, “this is my first day!”), or offering their opinion about their job, but generally start resisting when the discussion of their income comes up. Several telemarketers have laughed aloud as I ask the pointless questions. Only a few make it through the discussion of the importance of dental health into the promised land of “what toothpaste would you recommend?”. I heartily thank those few that make it that far, wish them well, and hang up the phone – almost certainly leaving a laughing, confused telemarketer on the other end.

I feel that the most important aspect of the Counterscript is to play it straight. Be completely earnest in your pursuit of “completing [your] study”. When they ask what the study is about, I depart the Counterscript and tell them I am studying the “effects of reactive telemarketing”. Sometimes, that answer seems to satisfy them. Other times, not so much. The more serious you are, the funnier.

A couple times, the telemarketer has bounced me up to a manager and this is where playing it straight really becomes important. I generally take the approach that the manager is an equal to my position on my “study”, and approach them with, “Can you help me? Your telemarketer isn’t giving me the requested information. I’ve already started to complete this study form and can’t just throw it away. Can you answer these questions on behalf of the telemarketer?”. Sometimes they do, but frequently they do not and I ask for someone else — “perhaps someone with more authority,” I say — who would be able to answer on the telemarketer’s behalf. This is usually when they hang up on me.

This approach feels less aggressive toward the telemarketers (though my wife disagrees — “just tell them we’re not interested and hang up,” she suggests) and an enjoyable way to get the point across that we don’t want their calls.

Gotta go — the phone is ringing!

7 DAYS FOR SIDS 2007: Impressions

7 DAYS FOR SIDS

June 11-June 17 2007 was 7 DAYS FOR SIDS week in the Cincinnati area. SIDS is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is the number one cause of death for infants aged one week to one year. 7 DAYS FOR SIDS was founded by Jean-Robert de Cavel and his wife, Annette following the tragic death of their baby daughter Tatiana to SIDS on June 13 2002.

Money raised from 7 DAYS FOR SIDS benefits the Sudden Infant Death Network of Ohio by providing research, education, and parental support as well as the Tatiana de Cavel Scholarship Fund at the Midwest Culinary Institute. The mission of the Sudden Infant Death Network of Ohio is to work towards the reduction and eventual elimination of SIDS through a multidisciplinary approach of: the promotion of infant health and wellness, community outreach, education, and medical research. In addition, the Sudden Infant Death Network is dedicated to providing supportive services to those who have been affected by the loss of a child, age 2 and under, from a Sudden Infant Death (SIDS) or Other Infant Death (OID).

I was proud to serve on the planning committee this year after working at the event as a volunteer for the past couple years. Besides a fair amount of behind-the-scenes work, I participated in a significant way in two of the signature events: Chefapalooza and the Fathers’ Day Champagne Brunch and Silent Auction.

Chefapalooza was held at the Midwest Culinary Institute (MCI) at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College on Tuesday, June 12, 2007. While the guests arrived and enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, I performed the role of Kitchen Manager, overseeing & assisting with production of the food items used for the chef demos and served to the guests, in addition to liaisoning between the guest chefs and the students of Midwest Culinary Institute. Wendy joined as a volunteer in the front of the house after her workday. She greeted guests, helped them to their seats, and passed out programs before the demos. The chef demos were presented by the very entertaining team of Jean-Robert de Cavel and David Cook, followed by a demo by Nathalie Dupree, our celebrity guest for the evening. Ms. Dupree cooked a couple dishes from her new book, Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Cookbook. After the demos, guests were brought back to the Summit Room, MCI’s teaching-restaurant space to sample the items the chefs had created. I assisted by motivating the back of house staff, re-stocking food and serviceware, and with serving food. Though she wasn’t dressed for it, Wendy was pressed into service helping Jean-Robert work through the crowd that gathered at his food station. Attendance at this event was good (though a bit lighter than in previous years) and donations poured in, in no small part from sales of autographed copies of Ms. Dupree’s book, the proceeds of which she generously donated back to SIDS.

The second signature event Wendy & I worked on was the Father’s Day Brunch & Silent Auction. Held in the beautiful private dining rooms of Union Terminal, this event attracted more than 200 guests to sample the brunch offerings of lots of Cincinnati-area restaurants, enjoy belly dancers, quaff champagne, and bid on more than 100 items in our silent auction. Wendy & I arrived at 10:00am to assist with load-in and setup, and ran pretty much non-stop until we had to leave for a family obligation.

The reports are still being tallied and the proceeds counted, but we believe that with all the events of the week, 7 DAYS FOR SIDS has raised in the neighborhood of $90,000 this year — a tremendous success. While that amount isn’t a lot in terms of modern scientific research, we are hopeful that the cure for SIDS will be found with this money. Because without SIDS, everyone will sleep better.