Event 11 - I Left my Heart... (San Francisco Firehouse Spaghetti)

by Dave MichelMarch 22, 2015

The "I Left My Heart..." event was the ultimate cooking sabbatical event. That means it was the last event of my sabbatical ("terminal event" would be another way of putting it, but I thought that might send the wrong message). Yes, my Cooking Sabbatical is officially over. Maybe a few more blog entries and I'll truly be done. But that's for later - here's the scoop on the final event.

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Near the end of the evening, Kris said "Shoot - I forgot to take pictures of food". Both of us had been hopping around trying to keep things running smoothly (no Anna to help host due to a theatrical performance), and so the only picture of food we had was me holding this can of tomatoes. There were a lot of shots of guests eating and having a good time. As I reflected on this the next day, I came to the realization that this was completely appropriate. My Cooking Sabbatical wasn't really about cooking - it was about people.

This isn't really a new thought for me. There's a very good reason why so many brilliant conversations and creative interactions happen when you eat with others. But I had initially come at this whole adventure from a different direction. I wanted to expand my cooking technique toolbox, and then I began feeling like it would be a lonely month if all I did was experiment by myself in the kitchen. Having friends and family over would at least make my sabbatical a bit more interesting (and keep the leftovers down to manageable levels).

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What I found was that it's the stew of new and old friends, people who might not otherwise cross paths, and the connections that ensued that was the most satisfying part of this sabbatical. Every event made me feel blessed to have so many great and talented friends and family members with whom to share food and time. Kris and I had many conversations about how fun it is to have people over (and question ourselves why it was that we've done that so infrequently in the past). I don't know what our hosting groove will look like in the future, but I'm hoping that we continue to realize that we truly enjoy doing this kind of thing.

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Speaking of which... It's so great to have a partner like Kris to support my crazy notions. Not only did she not complain about the amount of work involved, but she only got semi-testy when I would goof a schedule or otherwise screwed up. Seriously, I couldn't have done something as nuts as this without her. Thanks for "enabling" me, Toasty! I love you.

 

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Concerning the food... This was about as simple as I felt I could make it. All prep was done the day of, except for brining the salmon Friday night. I smoked the fish Saturday morning while I ran out for ingredients, then got the sauce going (with the sausage I made and froze a month ago). The fish came out great, and I had plenty of time to assemble the salad beforehand (much better timing than this event). Parboiling the spaghetti meant I could finish cooking it in about a minute and keep a nice al dente texture - I stayed in the kitchen and kept making small batches as people went through the line.

I had ordered the sourdough from Boudin Bakery in San Francisco on Wednesday, and it arrived on Friday as promised. Sourdough always takes me back to my formative years (6th grade through high school) in the Bay Area.

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We topped off the evening with some Lund's Tiramisu Gelato and cookies, and then the Spaghetti Trio (Phil Kadidlo, Dan Horvath and me) played a bit. Robin Cain sang "All of Me", too. As Dan said the next day, "Good people, food, and music- hard to top that!"

 

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There were a bunch of new friends from the National Lutheran Choir in attendance. Eldri was the main instigator (she's the one that hacked my system and registered the other choir types). I had the above picture of the Drapers hosting a dinner party on my initial invitation email, so Eldri showed up with a really sharp looking pointy bra (I mean really sharp, like I'm still a little sore from a hug). After the party, I found that Don Draper was still hanging around like a bad penny. Jesus still somehow felt compelled to wash Don's feet. Way to go, you slimy, silver-tongued ad man!

 

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The day after the event, Kris and I staged a plate so we could at least have a photo of the food (and lunch afterward). Yep, this whole cooking sabbatical thing really was about the people. Thanks, everybody, for participating - you're what this journey was all about!

 

Event 10 - Ides of March (Soups)

by Dave MichelMarch 22, 2015

The Ides of March was the next to last cooking sabbatical event, and featured a house concert by Undlin and Wolfe (click to read about and listen to my demo of Siri Undlin). It was also the first of two extra events added after I realized that I had left out quite a number of invitees due to my exquisitely poor timing (you can read about that here). We had 21 invited guests, and were expecting a couple of invited crashers.

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Prep for the day started innocuously enough. I ran out for ingredients in the morning and got the chili simmering by 1:00 PM (we started the event at 5:00). Three more soups and two salads to go.

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After what seemed like a couple of hours of chopping and other prep, I had two more soups (turkey wild rice, and vegan lentil) going, and lemon bars in the oven. The cream of broccoli soup was last, since it was going to come together so quickly (uh, huh). Suddenly, it was about 4:15, and I hadn't started on either salad. In honor of Caesar, I wanted to make his salad, but reprioritized and finished the cream of broccoli and the green salad by 5:00. We actually had a bunch of other practical prep to do (plating desserts, setting up beverages and cutting bread), so it was great when my cousin Jane Miller and her daughter Julia were the first to arrive and pitched right in. Not long after that, Tink and Robert came, and rolled up their metaphorical sleeves. It's really nice to have help when you're in a pinch.

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I didn't really look at a clock after the rest of the guests started arriving, but I suppose we started about half an hour late. As usual, though, there was so much socializing going on that it seemed to make no difference.

It was fun to serve a variety of soups; most people tried at least two kinds. I felt like I could get a job at Eddington's if this computer thing doesn't work out.

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The highlight of the evening was a house concert by Undlin and Wolfe. They sounded characteristically fantastic, and were enthusiastically received. There were a number of other musicians in the crowd, so it was cool to see connections being made afterward.

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Jocelyn Hagen and Abbie Betinis both stuck around after everyone else left and had a bit of a "composers rule" moment. I guess they were done with making nice music.

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Anna has been a huge help for a number of these events. Thanks, Kiddo!

Other than my misplaced sense of how long prep takes, just about a perfect evening.

Event 9 - Crown Rack of Pork

by Dave MichelMarch 8, 2015

The Royal Feast was to be the "event to end all events" concerning my sabbatical, so I originally designed this menu with an exclamation point. Alton Brown said that you use a Crown Rack for its "shock and awe" value. My shock and awe moment was the day before the event, when I went to Clancey's Meats (highly recommended) to pick up the two pork racks I had ordered a month earlier, and found out that it was an awe-inspiring 15 lbs. of meat (at almost $14/lb, there was a considerable amount of shock, too).

After a bit of wondering what I was going to do with all that meat (I really wanted to do a Crown Rack, which requires two racks, so I didn't look at having just one rack as an option), Kris and I decided to expand the number of seats to 12 guests. The automated emails went out the evening before the event:

Dear FirstName,

Due to the incredible girth and generosity of Mr. Pig, I am adding five more seats to the Saturday, March 7 Crown Rack event (TOMORROW!) Yes, this is the Royal Feast, and you're invited (though I don't think there will be any real royalty in attendance).

In the fashion to which I have become accustomed, there was a small flurry of activity and all the spots were filled within a couple of hours. I went to bed knowing that we'd have a full house, and also that I hadn't done any of these recipes or even looked seriously at the racks. They were already Frenched (meat removed around the bone) with chine bone removed, and individually tied by Clancey's, but not put into a crown. I had wanted to do that part on my own.

I was up the next morning at 6:30 to start on Cherry Turnovers and smoking the salmon I had been curing overnight, as well as tying the crown and seasoning it so it could rest for the day. But I couldn't bend either rack past 90 degrees - no way could I fashion them into a circle. Clancey's doesn't open until 10 AM, so (panicking slightly) I searched for info on the Web that might give me a clue on what I needed to do.

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Not surprisingly, there are a lot of postings and videos on how to do a crown rack of pork. Some of the butcher-oriented ones looked really good, but my cuts of pork looked much more substantial (and stiffer) than any of the videos I found. After about 45 minutes of anxiety, I found this video by the Black Belt Butcher, which showed how to make a crown with a single rack by slicing partially through each chop part of the loin. He also demonstrated how to remove the remnants of bone that would be a nuisance to eat around. Armed with this information, I started on making the crown.

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After tying the ends together and then binding the circumference of the crown a couple of times, I seasoned with thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. The great thing about this recipe is that the potatoes and shallots cook with the pork, and a most delicious sauce is made from the pan drippings and the apples baked with the vegetables. No additional seasonings required!

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Inverting the crown during the high-temperature (475 degrees) phase of cooking keeps the exposed bones from burning and infused the meat with a beautiful succulence and seasoning from the fat cap at the bottom of the crown.

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Just about ready to put the roast in the oven. To the right are the cherry turnovers, which were served with vanilla bean ice cream and the reserved cherry reduction. I reheated the turnovers immediately before serving. Potatoes and shallots were in the roasting pan, along with the apples used for the sauce.

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Halfway through cooking, I added apple cider to the vegetables and put the crown right-side-up to finish at 300 degrees. The bottom of the crown already had a lovely crispy texture - all we needed to do is get the top browned and the inner temperature to 140 degrees.

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Presenting the crown. Asparagus came out of the oven about two minutes later. The asparagus was crusted with parmesan and panko crumbs. Though delicious, the recipe was tweaky and required a whole lot of prep, so I probably won't use it again (at least for a large crowd).

It was a fun group of almost all Bethlehem guests, with Nancy bringing a neighbor who had been in the wine business for many years. Soren and Anna also supped. Happily, just one rib left over.

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About the author

Dave

Dave is a recording engineer, musician and software developer in Minneapolis. He's found that a cooking sabbatical is more work than normal life.

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