Let me show you my Cast Iron Skill(z)et

I love love love love love a good cast iron skillet.  It’s a great heat conductor, a great flavor inducer and an all around great apparatus for cooking.  From stove to oven, I find this heavy  item an ideal tool for ANY kitchen.

Here is an old article in the NY Times about the beautiful and versatile skillet:

Such pretty writing about such a manly and dark underdog of kitchen tools.  I think a smaller skillet is perfect for a fritatta too!

When I am at my boyfriend’s house I tend to gravitate towards his heavy and very well seasoned cast iron skillet.  I also gravitate towards it because he has an electric stove, and I find that when I use any other pan the heat to surface ratio is never balanced.  Example…when I boil water I find that rings form and bubbles rise where the bottom of the pan and the electric range meet, so to avoid that entirely I lean towards the handy-dandy skillet. Not that I boil water in the skillet.

One of my favorite recipes involves using short ribs and cherries.  Summer is almost over and the peak of cherry season has vanished. Before this happens I pulled out the cork from the bottle of Rose and celebrated the change with a BBQ version of Rose macerated short ribs in a smokey sweet tomato bath.  It starts on the stove and finishes in the oven.  It’s tender, sweet savory and smokey.

4 Short ribs (cut in half in order to fit the perimeter of the Cast iron Skillet), 1 1/2 cup Bing Cherries, 2 cups Rose, 1 whole large yellow onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon Alderwood smoked salt, black pepper,1 stalk fresh rosemary, 1/2 cup IPA, 1/4 cup tomato purée, 1/4 cup tomato paste, flour, olive oil.

Prep: Cut the short ribs in half.  Do this because 4 good-sized short ribs would not fit a 12 inch skillet.  Cut whole onion in 1/4″ rings, Pit and halve your cherries, now lets slice the garlic into slivers.

Overnight: Macerate the pitted and halved cherries with Rose wine.  I find that even a bubbly rose would do well (beer or white wine would be a fine substitute.).  Pour just till the liquids cover the cherries.  If you don’t have the time to do this overnight then please at least an hour.

Heat your skillet on high.  Oil the pan. Flour and dust off  shortribs and add to hot skillet (the flour also acts as a natural thickening agent for the sauce). brown lightly and turn over do the same…about 1 minute on both sides.  Since we aren’t on the grill, I wanted the richness of a BBQ without the long coals and embers, I find that the rendered meat juices and browned goodness that are released during this process really give this sauce the meaty body that I want.  After the browning process remove and let rest

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Add the onions and brown a till they have picked up the color and the juices of the meat drippings, and until they have carmelized a bit themselves (you don’t want them fully carmelized, because you still want some crunch.  Add the slivers of garlic.  Add  1/2 the cherries without the juices and saute a bit longer (give or take 6 minutes total).

Add the smoked salt, pepper now add 1/2 the liquid from the macerated cherries into the pan and add the half bottle of beer, and the rest of the cherries (I do

n’t like all my cherries to be smooshed so I add 1/2 before for more concentrated flavor and the other half later for the texture).  I like using an IPA because of the hoppyness (SP?)  it’s floral and simple delicious when adding flavor and to deglaze the pan.  Now add the tomato paste, and tomato purée.  Here I use the combination of the two because the paste cuts the acidity of the purée and adds a bit more body to the dish, i.e a bit more sweetness.

Add the WHOLE rosemary (Optional). At t

his point simmer for a bit longer till everything has reduced to half.  Salt to taste and pepper to taste.  If Aleppo or Marash pepper is available I highly recommend you add a dash if you want a bit more peppery but not spicy notes to this dish, the Aleppo is super fruity so it really melds together well with the acidic and sweet characteristics of this dish.

About 15-20 minutes have now past, please now is the time to add your short ribs and all of the rested juicy bits back into the pan.  Make sure they are well covered in the mixture, add to the oven. Because you are using  skillet you can actually braise these short ribs on the stove top but be sure to turn down the heat to med so it’s still bubbling but not boiling.  If finishing on the stove cover and simmer 20 minutes.  If finishing in the oven cover and simmer at 375º for 20 minutes.

There are plenty of layers to this dish which is why there is the option for the Aleppo, and the Rosemary. Without them this dish is still great!  It revives the feelings of a delicious and thick BBQ sauce from an outdoorsy summer. It is sticky and gooey but a bit more classic but still rustic.  The meat is tender and fall apart and has really soaked up all the savory smokey bits of the browned onions and smoked salt.  The cherries have melted a bit but still parts and bits are meaty.  I love this dish for the many layers and how the personal perks of each ingredient complement one another.

If this lovely dark smoked salt is not available, green peppercorns would be pretty awesome with this dish, or simply salt and a good dose of black pepper.  Chomp Chomp Chomp!

Question of the day.

Waiting for the bus, heading home…the bus’ arrival.  I was in front of the San Francisco Public Library when someone stopped with the question…”ARE YOU A CHEF?”  I didn’t know what to answer…but nearly nanoseconds before he appeared I was watching a novelty bus line for tourists slow down; it wasn’t the #19. I wanted it to be but it wasn’t.  I instinctually ran towards the slow-moving bus in hopes of avoiding more prying questions.

When the bus kept on going I was left in this off and odd feeling. “Wait Waittt!” How do you answer that?  Are you a chef? I quickly turned around to try to see if the man was still there.  Maybe even give him an answer but, he was gone as fast as he had

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Birthday Dinner

appeared.  The guy looked like Joe Pesci.  Slicked back black hair with a NY Giants jacket, that’s how I remembered him.  My bus finally came. The whole time I was on the actual #19 bus I felt this nauseous feeling, riddled with anxiety wondering how the hell do I answer that.

I talked to my chef about it and he had a very abstract way of looking at the question.  COOK it’s what all chefs are.  CHEF is only a title of a person that would be the one higher grander scheme of control.  ‘ simplifying it…I can’t begin to write in detail about how he explained it.  It was a bit abstract actually.  Here, so that I won’t continue fumble over the whole brigade Wikipedia answers this question:

brigade system (Brigade de cuisine), documented by Georges Auguste Escoffier

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigade_de_cuisine

or this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chef

That answers MY question but, the majority of people who see someone in a kitchen or carrying a knife bag will automatically associate you with the word CHEF.  The hierarchs creates a sense of accomplishment  like a notch on your belt.  Without worrying about the regal hierarchy of it all, my friends and loved ones consider me a chef, I consider myself a cook and my title is Garde Manger/Pantry. Nothing too complicated with that.

I gotta…

I gotta do one thing…

I just gotta take a breather.  I can’t expect things to happen overnight.  Say it…say it…”I’m happy and I will live in the present.” Sure what I just expressed is most likely associated with someone floating in a nice fluffy cloud in a yoga pose, but what’s so wrong with that.  A zen approach is not so bad.

I was in a love-struck state of mind when I started this blog, well enamored would be a better word to use.  When I took my first steps into a full-time kitchen I was eager, wide-eyed and maybe not so ready for what was to come.   I gave this blog out to all my dear friends and some.  Sometimes strangers, co-workers, even family members but now it really remains a silent blog.  I began to type away, non stop (at first) with an uncensored writing style, but all that changed when I realized that the deeper the more engrossed I became with cooking and learning that the less I was able to write.  It’s easier to write when there is no audience.  I guess I was pretty excited –no, I mean I was really damn proud of myself and I just wanted to explain in a heartfelt shout out for my readers the immense emotional rush that I feel every time I am in a kitchen.  Well I always wanted to write.  Everyday after that first blog I would spend countless moments walking, or riding the public transits thinking, “What can I write about next?” All the while thinking of stories or plots always thinking of my next writing material.  The more I become engaged with the kitchen the more my mind begins to plot and thicken with ideas using new found and old materials. Always food.

daniel's I-phone photo

Really now…I shouldn’t be writing for anyone but myself.  Something that I once did for mere pleasure has turned into a cautious task.  So I would like to get back to the basics, and lose control all over again with writing.  Can I? Can I keep on writing knowing that a co-worker or boss could be reading this?  So what better way to start a new blog with the reasons why I haven’t been writing and what can necessarily drive me.

Lets try…breathe…

Since the beginning I was in love with cooking, now I feel that the romantic notions of the kitchen that I once had are now more realistic. It’s not a fairytale and I am not going to be wearing a tiara anytime soon.  My god, it has had its moments. I need to FOCUS.  Sometimes I focus too much on cooking that I lose track of why I’m pursuing it.

I need to focus on being content with the situation that I am in… I’ve had my bad and I’ve had my good nights or days.    One thing that has really helped is telling myself to take a breather when my mind begins to rapidly run through all the “what if’s?” …”what if I do this ticket before that one….what if another one of those come in and I just finished the other 4 and here I am working on the other?…what if the boss walks by and tells me that this is plated improperly…what if a co-worker reads this and laughs at my experience, what if my writing is just too novice  and who would want to read this? What if someone gets offended…………………what if ?????”

So what if? I can still count of writing as my cushion when I get to do something other than overthink…it becomes my refuge from worry and mayhem.

The hardest thing is telling myself that while most “normal folk” with sun shiny weekend trips are out and about, I  work a rapidly changing schedule that normally inhibits me from enjoying the sunny weekends.  Add to that an added day of work in another kitchen, this leaves me with 1 day a week off and normally it’s not a weekend day. Add to that communicating (which I think I’m not so great at).  So while friends family and loved ones stray off to enjoy the abundance of life, I am stuck in a kitchen.  That’s one thing that I have had to adjust to.  Normal people…thats what I consider those weekend warriors that merrily drive off and out of the Bay area…vacation in the sunny sands… meanwhile I slave away. My envious mind juggles a scenic landscape of green pastures, a lovely sunshine, warm beaches with sounds of the waves, trips to Tahoe, laughter and friends all out and about enjoying the 2 days out of the week when rest and relaxation should be the only thing on one’s mind.  PMA (positive mental awareness)…I center myself when I can take away all those negative impulses that make me want to spend my weekends lazily sipping a brew out in the park and instead focus on what I am gaining by pursuing this personal and sometimes awkwardly emotional attempt.

It is a job, and a I realized that there is a bit of self deprivation that may happen.  But, I am pursuing a very adventurous journey.  I relieve myself when I come home from work and think of finally…finally…I am putting on those chef pants (as unflattering as they are), and while I am buttoning up that while chefs coat I find great comfort in knowing that I will be able to move forth with another notch in my lifetime experience belt.  No one likes to work, but at least lets make this occupation more than just an occupation, make it an enriching one.

The other night I made a pan roasted salmon, with a summer vegetable ragout of sweet corn, slivers of garlic, Rannier cherries, heirloom carrots, and wilted watercress.  When I was able to plate up the salmon I realized that my experience in the kitchen usually showcases this on my dinner plate.  Influence, experience, time spent asking questions and just staring…watching…mimicking… lead me to better technique.  I was so proud when the salmon, it was cooked perfectly…carefully thinking about the textures and various flavors that would allow me to weave together all these simple ingredients into something that was well made and delicious.   I became satisfied.  Satisfied, mainly by proving to myself that I would not be losing any of my own creative style…my style and palate stays uniquely me, it’s just become more alert, aware and definitely enriched.  Plus, there is so much more to learn! I once asked one of my sous chefs if she felt her style of cooking had changed and she replied with no that her palate was just enhanced.

I just gotta stop thinking too much…I just gotta stop asking “WHAT IF?”. I just gotta realize that I am doing it, and each day is pretty damn amazing… I just gotta realize that at least I have learned how to cook a well made piece of fish, and learned how to make a moist cake…success relies on my budding experiences, drive and passion. I gotta live in the NOW before the future. I just gotta realize that whoever made the weekends never had the cook in mind. THE END.

Meals

Latey I’ve been fascinated by baking.  It’s fairly precise and organized, and its been quite the journey with this pastry apprenticeship.mexican-dinner

Yesterday I used one of Flo Braker’s recipes,  I had to learn how to work with conversions of grams and millilitres to ounces to cups to tablespoons etc.  I had to research and tweak the recipe a bit but it worked out.  I also added some apple purée to the banana bread to cut down 1/3 of the sugar.  I had a couple of negative variables…butter was not room temp, I did not have the right whisk or mixer, and my conversion rates were a bit rickety.  The cake did come out beautifully though, it was moist and Flo’s frosting added the perfect amount of cake-like sweetness and tartness that usually never accompanies a banana bread.  I can’t say that I am fully confident in my baking skills, but the more I research and learn to bake I understand that it is a well honed craft.  Like with savory cooking you can also learn to tweak the recipe to make it a bit more of your own style.  I like to think that trial and error are the best ways to learn, but with baking the best way to learn is to follow the recipe…but it’s okay to deviate a bit.

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Speaking of deviating from the norm…Last night’s dinner consisted of black beans with fresh sweet corn and asparagus, mexican style brown rice with sage and carrots, pork sausage tacos with green chile tortillas, a medley of toppings which included; fresh shredded lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, fresh avocados, finely diced red onions, segments of lime, shredded Monterey jack cheese, and a quick pickling of carrots chayote squash and red onions with some warm some spice

Unmentionables.

Tonight I had a little date with myself.  I enjoy my food alone.  I find that I helps me find peace and solace with my solitude. No conversations.

I was on a date with myself tonight doing what I enjoy most…breathing…sighing…eating…and people watching.  Couples passed me by, bald men were running wild through the streets, girlfriends chat…and apparently all three of them were from the East coast.  Girls who obviously have their biases and discrepancies with the west coast.  It was a fairly quiet night that ended with a super boring movie.

Tonight I was witness to two lovers.  I sat there quietly lurking noticing their body language and their intimate smirks.  Two lovers with ethereal and shy smiles, folded arms that soon turn into an elegant fold over the thigh/knee area.  There was nervousness and awkwardness that lasted throughout the dinner.  It was that type of fresh feeling that sparks the images of love and everlasting friendship.   His insecurity was all in his posture… slightly bent upper back soon rolls into a flirtatious confidence when posture becomes more upright.  I wonder if this would last… 

You can call me a romantic…I am actually a hopeless romantic…a tragic hopeless romantic heavily weighing in on the Old fashioned approach to a relationship.   I am not envious of those that have had heartbreak,  I am instead envious of those who gain strength from the aches and the pains exchanging the martyr complex into something stronger.

The two soon put on their jackets to leave…one insists on paying the bill…the other jokes and tells him that its much more than it is…coyly one states “No way??!Really!?!” …giggles ensue.. moments before the bill, “So do you want a 6 pack or wine?”  Alcohol is obviously involved for the obvious but unobvious nervous tension to die off.  His posture perks…his assumption could be that things are going well…They walked out the door both smiling both head down hands in their jacket…necks scrunched down to their warm coats braving the cold wind that waits for them.

Two men…walk together hand in hand on a chill San Francisco night.

It feels like a soft sea feather that tickles my insides when I think about the possibilities of love.  I hope that it is not all fairytales.  I feel that way with this career change.  I don’t want my love to wane off with cooking.

A question we have to deal with is that in this day and age can love last?  It seems like falling in love is often compared to having to jump off a pirates plank…down deep into the sea water.

Finally the waitress brings me my bill and I notice that my beer isn’t on the bill…$10.50… “Excuse me?  You forgot my beer.”  $14.50.

I’ll jump off that plank any day…as long as I learn how to swim.

the agony of being undefeated…

I’m going to go nowhere with this now.    Without thinking too much I will write.  About the oohhs and plenty of ahhs that I have had thus far in the kitchen.  You know when there is excitement to something it often wains but never ends…sudden change or impact will eventually pulsate life back into that, that what once got you excited.

I always said I would never write about the bad, and that meant that I would never write negatively about anyone or anyplace.  With that being said, I can, however, write about my disagreements with the unfairness and imbalance that there is in the kitchen…versus the front of the house.  It’s mostly a money issue here, there isn’t much fairness when it comes to money and working in a restaurant.  Hostesses and most front of house staff will end up making so much more money than those that are back of the house.  Where is the tip out system??

Should I ever be punished for doing what I love?  Money is not the issue here.  I am grateful for this job and this bright and full filling opportunity learning so much at this eager time of my life but I also know how difficult it is to make this switch and to feel the economic burdens.  So I suck it up.  I’ve focused too much in my past about making money, and I never left work as exuberant as I do now.

As the sun gleams brightly just outside my window and the warmth breathes against my back, I am given slight chills when I think about the uncertainty with my career and future.   It’s no hesitation or fears it’s just ….just…well I still can’t figure it out.

I had a wonderful day at work today; I remember when I asked my chef if I would be able to stage there just one day…That day, I said to him “I have no glamorized thoughts of glory or fame of becoming a TOP CHEF…I just want to hone my knife skills and learn as much as I can about the line…”.  We both sat and shared stories about why he got into cooking, and why I wanted to.  It ended with a handshake and a call a few days later.   I have spent my time there wisely and yes I have gained more knife skills, I am faster and more efficient and even though I still can cut a nail or a finger once in a while, eventually the healing time in between has lengthened.  I take my skills from one place and use it for the other…I left work with a huge air of confidence.  Never arrogance.

While all of this is endearing to my heart, nothing is ever more satisfying than knowing that within the past couple of months I have made all of this possible with determination, and the support from some of the most important people in my life has helped me extremely.  People have often referenced the furrowed brows colliding on top of my forehead as being a look of annoyance, my roommate has stated that it’s actually a look of determination.  “You look like your on your way to conquer something.”  Maybe I am…though conquer is not the word I would use.  A goal is a goal, I want to ACCOMPLISH and feel success and satisfaction…conquer isn’t the word.  I want a life without regret.

Yesterday I went on a bike ride.  25 miles.  NONSTOP.  On my city bike, turquoise with a cute basket.  As my friend raced in front of me in her spandex gear and helmet I held on tight to my rickety bike as cars passed me by.  The wind howling and pushing me sometimes forwards, sideways and blowing not so harshly for me to turn back.  I huffed and I puffed and I pushed and pushed…through it all I said…no no you’ve gone this far… My yellow scarf blowing, my basket shaking, my jeans sweating and my sweater flopping through the wind.  GO GO GO GO GO…!!

The slight uphill, the narrow roads, the sweat beads…and the aching and numbing knees and thighs… from San Francisco to cross the bridge through Sausalito through the highways and all the way to a wonderful oceanic view of San Francisco in the lovely town of Tiburon…then back to Sausalito.

Throughout the ride back…I envisioned myself getting off that bike, with one thumb up “SF BOUND” the thumb would say. My burning thighs were telling me to hail down the next truck with an empty truck bed climb in and head home.  I didn’t.  Could it be in my blood? Is it the Vietnamese resilience?  Could it be due to proper breathing technique?  Things will or will not get worst and or harder.  I just have to think…One day at a time Tina…I learned from Daniel the other day to never look back while I was on my bike because that could cause an accident on my bike.

The night I lay still on the hospital bed I had received massive head trauma, a slight coma and some seizures I lay rudely awakened.  That day as I raced down that hill on my snowboard, in the year 1999…my mistake was looking back at my competition.  My head was swollen that day and so was my ego.  I learned to never look back.  So yesterday on my bike ride when I was towards the very last stretttttttttttchhh I looked forward to the horizon, focusing intently on the road ahead of me, heart pumping and hair not so flowing.  I tilted my head down and began to breathe heavily and pushed forth.   The days when my mind will tell me “I can’t do it”  I look forth to that distant yet vividly bright future…and to that never-ending light that shines towards my goal…whatever it is.

Better…than never…

Its been a while since my fingers felt the erratic taps of the keyboard.  There is something that I miss when I can’t find my inspiration to write.  I always have the urge…searching and seeking for another experience to write about.  Maybe, like much of my thoughts I should focus.  Something will come…

The rain has erupted a bit of silence…and so has this bit of stability,  but as new change slowly veers it’s shy head around the corner I find my heart beating again.  Beating to an exciting new beat.  A serious one.