Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Inventions

As it happens, the professional restaurant cook has a deplorable lack of time to cook creatively for herself at home, let alone to take pretty pictures of food and formulate recipes and write witty blog posts for the entertainment and culinary edification of the masses (but let's be honest, if this blog ever had a massive audience, you're probably all gone by now, as it's been over a year and a half since my last post.)

But I'm spending the whole summer this year with my sister's family in Indiana (a very much needed break after the busiest year of my life), and I'm enjoying the opportunity to cook for my own pleasure again. Today I made two meals which were absolutely worth repeating, and sharing. I'm not even going to try to come up with measurements for these recipes, since I basically never measure unless I'm baking. So I'll just tell you what I did, and leave the rest up to your judgment.

A quick recap on what I've been up to first, in case you're here and interested...

After my last post I was promoted to lead pasta cook at Sassi and spent eight months doing that, having the most fun I've ever had in my life. In the late spring of 2015 I went back to do a pastry fellowship at my school, ACI. Then I quit my job (and I still miss my amazing boss so much!) to work at a cake bakery. After six weeks I quit that job because I missed cooking too much, among other reasons. I took November and December off to focus on visiting my dying grandma, organizing the Christmas Eve service at my church, and making four wedding cakes in the last two weeks of the year! (I'm slowly developing my own wedding cake business on the side: Sweet April Cakes.) In January I started a new job at Monarch (currently the top rated restaurant in Scottsdale on most customer review websites). I've been working as a line cook there, and hope to create a full-time pastry position in the fall.

My life is so busy that sometimes I hate it so much and I just want to quit. Everything. But then I try to think of what my life would be if I didn't spend every day working with food, and that's way more depressing. So I keep on with my 12 hour work days and weekly chiropractor visits and keep up with my good intentions to cook at home and blog about it, which never happens (until it does) but that's okay. Because this is the real life of a cook.

So here's what I made today.

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Lunch - Charred Sweet Potato & Egg Skillet

My sister asked me to make this for a quick lunch. She says a regular meal in their house is shredded sweet potatoes fried with eggs. I wasn't sure how she wanted me to do it, so I just decided to kick it up a notch. She approved.

Dice up a sweet potato. Heat a pan (cast iron would be ideal, but sadly my sister doesn't have one!) with a couple tablespoons of olive oil until it starts to smoke. Sauté the sweet potatoes until they start to get a little bit of color on them. Add some thinly sliced fresh garlic, fennel seed, chipotle chili powder, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook until sweet potatoes are just shy of being perfectly tender. Then toss in a little butter and crack some eggs on top, seasoning those with salt and pepper. Move the pan to the broiler and cook until the egg whites are set, but the yolks are still soft. Sprinkle on some feta cheese and fresh mint and dig in!

* * *

Dinner - Roasted Tomato & Artichoke Fettuccine with Seared Steak & Blue Cheese

We fed the kids and put them to bed early before sitting down to this gorgeous meal. As much as I adore my niece and nephews, sometimes you just can't enjoy a gourmet pasta dish properly when there are little arms and legs everywhere and a one-year-old yelling for more food before he's even swallowed what's in his mouth. Sometimes you just need quiet and dusk and a glass of red wine.

Cut some tomatoes into wedges (quarters or sixths, depending on how big they are) and toss them in olive oil, dried thyme, salt and pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Spread them on a baking sheet skin side down and roast at 400 degrees for about two hours. Scooch them to one side of the pan so you can add some quartered artichoke hearts for the last half hour of roasting. Meanwhile, get a pot of water boiling for your pasta, and sear some well-seasoned steaks in a very hot sauté pan with vegetable oil. (I used London Broil because they were on sale, but a more tender cut like sirloin or NY Strip would be even better.) Get your fettuccine in the boiling water, and transfer the steaks to the oven to finish cooking to rare or medium-rare. Remove them from the oven and let them rest as soon as they reach 125°. (If they cool down too much before you finish prepping everything else, you can always flash them in the oven, but the last thing you want is overcooked steak!) In the same pan that you seared the steak in, add a little olive oil if needed, and sauté some fresh garlic and onion till they're tender and browned. Deglaze with a touch of red wine, add in the tomatoes and artichokes, as well as any juice that's drained from the steaks. When the fettuccine is cooked to al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the sauce. Mix it all up, pile it on your plate, top it with the thinly sliced steak, and garnish with blue cheese and fresh basil.

And like I said, enjoy it with a glass of red wine. You deserve this.

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