Very Inter..esting!

On my way to my most recent STK event, I was tuned into NPR on my car radio. A segment on “All Thing Considered,” with Melissa Block, was airing about changing demographics and their impact on advertising. Part of  the segment discussed the Dos Equis ads for “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” If you are not familiar with these clever ads, they depict an older, distinguished yet rugged man of ambiguous origins. He’s adventurous, sexy, well traveled and most importantly, his reputation precedes him wherever he goes. The ads are riddled with funny tag lines about him; “If he were to pat you on the back, you would list in on your resume.” “Both sides of his pillow are cool.”, “When in Rome, they do as he does” and other witty, clever sayings such as these. Perhaps this segment was a prelude of the evening to come and the people I had the pleasure of meeting and cooking for that night.

Recent Facebook Status Updates of some of the participants in this installment of STK:

  • Just got beaten out of the San Pedro market in Cusco for filming them making soup out of a critically endangered species of frog… Now I need a still… Sending the fastest runner in our group for a fly-by shot. Fun, fun.

  • In perfect Costa Rican DMV style, they say if I leave the country for good with the camper, I must leave the license plates in CR, but they say I cant leave the country without license plates…

  • If anyone sees a RATTLESNAKE while they’re out in the Boulder area please let me know ASAP (call anytime). Need one for a high-speed photography project. YES, I am trained to handle them and have done so 100s of times. Yes, i’m serious, no it won’t be harmed

  • I’ve seen a bald eagle and a UFO this morning. great…now I’m one of “those guys”. crap.

  • For evidence sake, I am the first one here for my flight. Perhaps I will help the airport janitor sweep off the runway before my plane arrives…Shoo chickens and iguanas~Shoo!

  • in Hong Kong after 20 hours of flying from Africa… onto Shanghai. Phew… feeling like I am faaaarrr from home. Miss you!

  • Found a boat – using a baker’s peel for a paddle – Peruvians highly amused. Headed into the field in the morning. Happy to be leaving the city. Peru independence day(s) = drunk bands, fireworks and canons going off all night.

So, from some of the posts above, you might be able to ascertain that I was cooking for a group of eclectic, well traveled souls. Participants included:

Catherine: documentary film maker, Kyle: Overland explorer/ ex-adventure travel company owner, Kate: food and restaurant PR expert/owner D I S H publicity, Steve: Experiential marketing exec, Joel: entrepreneur/founder of Bradley Pass a leather camera accessory company, Preston: Senior environmental scientist/modern day Indiana Jones, and Harper: an adorable and extremely mature 7 year old and champion sleeper.

Not only was this group the epitome of “interesting” but they were all what I would consider to be “extreme foodies” They know good food, they talk about it and they seek out unforgettable food experiences. I hope I delivered for them.

My sous chef for the evening, Kyle, had filled Preston (the host) in on what was to transpire in the kitchen. I could immediately tell when opening the fridge that there had been some shopping preparation done in anticipation of my arrival. The fridge was stocked with fresh and delicious raw ingredients for me to whip into a gourmet meal. In addition to the fresh offering of herbs, cheeses, and meats in the fridge, I was overwhelmed by the overabundance of dried exotic mushrooms brimming from Prestons cabinet.

I had heard from Kyle that he and Preston did a bit of mushroom foraging for fun, but had no idea how into it they were. There were multiple jars of dried mushrooms to behold. Painstaking hours of mushroom hunting must have gone into the stash in the pantry. There was no choice but to come up with a dish that used these gems as the centerpiece.

I must admit, I haven’t cooked much with dried mushrooms, but thought that a dust made from them would do well coating a seared meat. Although the meal came out well, I would suggest that rather than using a dust, I would instead next time create a pesto with the ground mushrooms, as I think the method I used didn’t emphasize the delicate mushroom flavor of the porcini as much as it could have. I also would have made some sort of lamb stock/wine reduction sauce instead of the tomato romesco, to more closely compliment the flavor rather than compete with it. Instead of chops like I made, I would have instead cut the lamb into chunks, marinated them in the porcini pesto and roasted them in a hot oven or skewered them for the grill. Now I’m not sure which recipe to give you: the one I made or the one I would make if I could turn back time, like Cher… but with taste. So likely in my next posting I will follow up with recipes “I should have made”

This is what I made:

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Fried Asparagus Tip Garnish

Porcini Crusted Lamb with A Creamy Tomato Romesco Sauce

Gorgonzola Polenta with Garlic “Chips”

Crispy Sauteed Kale with Olive Oil 

Sweet Potato Puree

(to substitute for polenta since there was a corn allergy at the table)

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Fried Asparagus Tip Garnish: 

So there has been asparagus in virtually every refrigerator I have peeked into since the inception of STK. I think asparagus is one of those seemingly “gourmet” items that people pre-stock their refrigerator with in anticipation of my arrival. It’s one of those items that people must just perceive as fancy; it has however, never been my favorite. You have seen me roast it on more than one occasion since the idea of it steamed is just vile to me. Mushy steamed asparagus with a congealed hollandaise to me is one of those dishes that should go the way of the dinosaur, or at the very least be banished to a very dark and inaccessible dungeon somewhere. Somewhere far away from me never to see the light of day. I was bored with myself and my propensity to make a balsamic marinated roasted asparagus and so I challenged myself to mix it up this time. It was a rare day in Boulder, a day of torrential rain and so I decided a delicious soup would fit the bill. I sweated the asparagus minus the tips in a saucepan with butter and some onion. To that I added bayleaf and chicken stock and let the mixture simmer. I finished the soup in the blender with the addition of heavy cream, salt and pepper. To garnish, I heated olive oil in a sauce pan and in essence deep fried the tips until they got crispy. I had never fried asparagus before, but it added a texture dimension and a richness to the soup when added as the garnish.

Souping the Soup

Porcini Crusted Lamb with A Creamy Tomato Romesco Sauce

I’ll leave the details of the alternate improved lamb recipe for the next posting. Kyle had somehow passed his duties of Sous Chef onto Preston and instead became a culinary voyeur and a much welcomed personal sommelier in charge of liquoring up the chef.  Preston the “Prince of Porcini” thus had a challenging time pureeing the dried porcini into a powder using an underpowered blender. I added to the dust, salt, pepper and a bit of dried thyme, massaged each piece with olive oil and coated with the dust. Seared in a hot pan the lamb chops were finished in the oven and dolloped with a generous serving of fresh creamery butter as they rested from their roast!

I served the lamb with this tomato romesco sauce:

Sweat chopped onion and garlic in a pot with olive oil, add canned chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, finished with a bit of heavy cream for body and to balance acidity. ( I may have added a teaspoon of sugar, I can’t remember, taste yours and see if it needs it. What can I say?)

Gorgonzola Polenta with Garlic “Chips”

To make garlic chips heat thinly sliced garlic in a pan with cold olive oil. Allow the oil to get hot while the garlic is swimming. You must carefully watch the garlic as it cooks to prevent it from burning. If you’ve over cooked these they get very bitter and well you may as well throw them away, nothing more vile than burnt garlic except maybe steamed mushy asparagus. When the garlic gets a nice light brown color spoon the slices onto a paper towel. Reserve the oil as it is now “garlic infused olive oil” You’d pay a pretty penny for that product in Whole Foods.

Watch the garlic slices carefully so they don't burn

I heated a sauce pot of 2/3 chicken stock, 1/3 cream in a pot until simmering. Add to that your cornmeal and stir. Stir like you’ve never stirred before. You want to keep stirring polenta so that you don’t get lumps and until it develops a nice sheen to it and starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Somewhere in the midst of this stirring add as much gorgonzola as you can stand to the mix. salt and pepper. When you are done, add more gorgonzola oh and butter, lots of butter! You might want to note that at a recent doctor visit when told I shouldn’t be eating dairy, I cried and told the doctor that I in fact “like butter more than I like most people”  Knowing this, take the addition of “lots of butter” with a grain of salt. Serve this decadence with a few chips of garlic atop.

Crispy Sauteed Kale with Olive Oil 

I don’t really care if you say you don’t like Kale! Try this recipe anyway. Using the aforementioned garlic infused olive oil resulting from the garlic chip process, heat it up in a saute pan until smoking. Then add the well washed and chopped kale into the pan small batches at a time to avoid overcrowding. Overcrowding will have you boiling/steaming your kale rather than searing it to crispy deliciousness. Add salt and pepper. Serve…..That easy! That delicious!

Sweet Potato Puree

I made this to substitute for the polenta as one of the attendees has a corn allergy. Attuned as I am to the plight of people with food allergies, I easily substituted a delicious and rich sweet potato puree for the gorgonzola polenta orgasm that I prepared for everyone else. Boil and drain peeled sweet potatoes. In blender add sweet potatoes, salt, pepper, cream and puree until mostly smooth. Finish with butter. (obscene amounts of butter if you dare)

As a chef, you often critique your own creations as well as the creations of others. There is always something you would do differently, or better or do without next time. I guess that is what interests me most about improvisational cooking, the way it can change from moment to moment, one meal to the next. The creation of new recipes that never would have otherwise existed unless given certain constraints of ingredients and time. Cooking has and always will be an interesting endeavor for me that keeps me trying new things. Sharing this meal with some of Boulder’s eclectic foodie folks certainly kept me on my toes.

I didn’t get to make a soup out of critically endangered frogs, or have to shoo iguanas or anything other than kyle’s picking fingers out of the kitchen, but it was an enjoyable evening nonetheless.

I also added to my “interesting” collection of friends by offering up my cooking talents that night. In return Preston offered to take me along on a recent porcini finding mission way up in the hills outside of Nederland. I watched and learned as my guide searched high and low for signs of the illusive porcini. At one point in the day, I swear he spotted one from 100 yards away through the trees.  (If there was an appropriate most interesting man in the world dos equis quote for amazing porcini finding skills, I would certainly add it here.) I found some myself (beginners luck) and tonight I will STK a dish for myself out of what I have in my own cupboards that will highlight the delicate yet delicious flavor of the porcini. I will also dry what I don’t use and be sure to make that pesto. I’ll report back to you what I find.

The most interesting people in Boulder

5 responses to “Very Inter..esting!

  1. HA! Love the “If you were to pat you on the back…” one.
    Saw you commenting on Food That Doesn’t Suck’s blog and I thought I’d get over here and add you to my blogroll and ask that you might stop over and even better cloth my naked comments on my very new blog lol.

  2. That Asparagus Soup looks so yum!

    I haven’t seen those commercials (living in Australia and all), but they sound very funny and I love the witty little sayings that you used as examples.

  3. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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