Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Tour of the World... With Part of My Thumb Missing!

So yes, dinner #26 was very fun and all. As Tamy mentioned we were being filmed for a very cool project.  I guess somewhere in between the lights, the camera, the focusing on the characters, the not focusing on the camera crew and producer, cutting up my veggies, is where I lost track of what I was doing and took a knife straight through the upper part of my thumb. Luckily the cut was not as bad as it sounds, and I managed to keep things together (literally) and continue on with the show!

Well, for the show we had a great menu planned and let me remind you that we have had this menu ready for two weeks. This was the dinner that was cancelled at the very last minute due to my family emergency.
The menu was the following:

Phylo stuffed with feta cheese and capers accompanied with tri-color olives and mint sauce

Lamb sausage and eggplant stuffed pasta shell with fresh tomato sauce

Lamb chops with bordelaise-style sauce and mushroom and chipotle risotto

Warm chocolate cake with melted brigadeiro (brazilian chocolate candy)

The picture speak for themselves!

Green Olives, Sun Dried Tomatos & Kalamata Olives

Stuffed phylo with feta and cappers

Lamb sausage and olives stuffed in a large pasta shell

Lamb chops with delicious reduced stock with mushroom & chipotle risotto

Warm chocolate cake stuffed with brigadeiro accompanied by chocolate and vanilla sauce
This was the photo taken seconds after cutting the finger. You can see in the background the blood... luckily no food got contaminated.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What does Thursdays at Worth Street Look Like?

We have an amazing video that our dear and talented friend Raul Mandru put together, it introduces the idea of Thursdays at Worth Street in such an amazing way. Here it is in case you want a refresher.  

The question roaming through our heads now is how else would the Thursdays at Worth Street experience look like? How about the characters, our guests? What would their stories look like on camera? What about Felipe and I? What is our story on film? So many questions and the good news is, we are beginning to get some of the answers.  

For dinner #26, we had the chance to create a Saturday special edition with a talented producer and now friend, Evita Douropoulou. She used Worth Kitchen as the setting to her pilot show "Wanna Be a NYer" a story about students on their quest to find a US visa. For the first time, our dinner had real characters! While the show is reality based, it does have four set characters whose stories develop certain ways and into certain directions. The experience for us was a bit surreal. The one thing we try to do at all our dinners is to make our guests feel 100% comfortable. I think in this case, Felipe and I were the ones to feel a bit out of place, almost as if we were staged characters ourselves, not us in our own flesh and bone. If there is a word we try to maintain intact during our dinners is the word AUTHENTICITY. We always allow (if not aim at) getting people's true colors to come out, including mine and Felipe's. In fact, the nights where these colors come out the strongest end up being our most memorable and rich dinners. I have to admit that having a camera aiming at you throughout the dinner experience makes for a "staged" you, no matter how honest you would like to appear. I almost felt as if I was cheating on myself by not being genuine. While the "real" Tamy would greet us with short appearances, as soon as she got a glimpse of that camera, she would go back to hiding. And well, as far as the staged Tamy goes, maybe she isn't so bad, we will have to wait and see. 

The one thing that held true during this filmed Saturday edition is the amazing people we met and who now form a special part of our lives. During the dessert, we turned the cameras off, sat down, and opened up yet another bottle of wine. We all talked about our dreams, what drives us, where we want to go. The characters talked about their very real struggle to get a visa and Felipe and I talked about our very real Worth Kitchen project. Whether on or off camera, it was amazing to see so many live projects cross paths: A producer chasing an idea, a student chasing a visa and a couple chasing the dream of a restaurant. Thank you Evita for such great opportunity and for allowing us to see ourselves through a new lens.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dinner #25 - A Night of Ricotta

December is always a very crazy month and the same definitely applies for Worth Kitchen. In the past two weeks we have had 3 dinners, two of which have been filmed. We are planning our first dinner for 18 people this Thursday at a beautiful loft in SoHo. So our plans do not stop... but lets not get ahead of ourselves. We still need to go back to Thursday December 2nd, our 25th dinner.

The dinner of the ricotta. Delicious dishes, and my first braised short ribs of the winter. This is a dish that will make various repeats in the future.

The menu was the following:
Baked beets and ricotta with rosemary and truffle salt

Braised short ribs with a merlot and broth reduction on a bed of ricotta polenta

Ricotta cheesecake

The baked beet slices with ricotta. A little amount of beet juice was poured on top of the cheese to give it a desired coloring. Experimenting with the presentation is one of the key take aways from these dinners. Sometimes its a hit, sometimes its a miss. You be the judge.
The short ribs were seared before putting them to braise for 4 hours in a chicken broth with leeks, carrots, celery, rosemary and a bottle of merlot. By end of the braise we had a delicious broth that when filtered and reduced to a perfect sauce. The polenta with ricotta was served a long with some chanterelle mushrooms
The ricotta cheesecake was very simple yet indulging. My first cheesecake ever and I think it came  out quite well. It was missing the orange zest, it could have given it an additional flavor bump. But for first time with a cheesecake, I was very pleased. 

After this dinner I had a lot of short ribs and polenta left over. So instead of keeping it around for a personal dinner or lunch, I took the everything to the office and prepared short rib tacos and ricotta cheesecake for anyone that was around. This was officially our first of what could be many more Thursday Left Overs.  Many were feed and all were happy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ok, so the bench has its flaws

Though the acquisition of our bench was a good one, during last Thursday's dinner, it became apparent that like everything and anything in life, it does after all have its flaws. Please use the image bellow as a way to illustrate its flaw.

The bench, as illustrated above, does not allow guests to recline. But while the bench is to blame here, I would like to make a point that it is only PARTLY to blame. I would like to bring to everyone's attention the second picture as reference:

As you can probbably tell, this is not the same type of fall. What we have here my friends is the second fall by the same guest who may have had just a tad too much to drink. This dear guest of ours is a guy who has lived in the same cities at the same time that Felipe has, making him an expat companion and another identity wonderer just like Felipe. They both got overly excited to meet yet again at another city, now NY, even if our dear guest was just passing by the city. There were many stories to share and much to catch up on, so we will give our friend the benefit of the doubt. I do have to say that this guest became the first over nighter! We had to put him on the sofa bed since he was in no condition to report himself back to his downtown hotel (yes, it was that bad but we still love him). Here is him and Felipe laughing about the fall in case you were worried our poor guest actually got hurt:

Last Thursday was such an amazing experience and there are so many anecdotes coming out of it that I think I would need about four to five additional posts to do justice to the night. So, in order to recap the highlights, here are some of the crazy things that took place during our last dinner:

Borrowing a roll of toilet paper from our neighbors, speaking about fetishes, forgetting that a guest did not eat meat and having to improvize on the spot (and succeeding in ingenuity!).

To all our guests, thanks for going with the flow, for not taking things seriously and for laughing at your own falls. I raise my glass to your dinner and may the ones to come be just as amusing!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The “Frijolito” (beans) Challenge, Calling in Auditions

This story was first told to me by my father in law John, the first version included pennies and a jar, it was told to me in English. This second version was told by John, but to Felipe’s friends from Mexico and in Spanish, hence the switch from pennies to beans or what we call “frijolitos”. The story goes as follows. During the first year of a marriage, a couple places one frijolito into a jar for each time  they “make love”. After the first year is over, every time the couple “makes love” a frijolito is removed from the jar. It is said that throughout the couple’s lifetime, the jar would never be completely emptied out. This causes instant laughs but what I find even funnier is the way people react to this story. As a good strategist, I analyzed the whole situation during our last dinner in Mexico, which constituted of Felipe’s closest (and oldest) friends. It also consisted of two guys who are married, and two guys who are UBBER single. This made my focus group even better, both single and married being fairly represented.

Here are the reactions.

The single guys were the first to laugh and laughed the loudest. Well, that makes sense, the joke is not on them, so there! They can seat on the sidelines and laugh their asses off. But what was interesting is that this automatic burst of laughter was shortly followed by an anxious feeling of “is this what I have to look forward to?”.

The married guys instantaneously laughed as well.  But there was something interesting about this married group of participants. One of the married guys (whose name I won’t mention here even though it will be obvious to everyone so sorry in advance for any marital conflicts this post might cause). Anyway, this one married guy had shown up to dinner alone since his wife was traveling to the US to visit family. He also had just very, very recently gotten married, so I had my eye out to see how he had changed and transformed due to his newly committed life. Soon enough, sirens went off! His reaction to the frijolito challenge gave it away completely. His reaction was to first challenge the frijolito story: “That isn’t MY particular case”. This is the natural knee jerk response of a newlywed, whose latest memories of intimicacy are found right around the corner, honeymoon snapshots from some beautiful, uninhabited and desserted island. But it was his second reaction that really proved it, he was one of us, the married kind. While challenging the frijolito story and trying to prove to us all that this was not HIS story, he began getting concerned about making this challenge public: “what would his wife say?” “How would she react?” , “What if she were to find out?" Boy would he be in trouble! 

And so the night went on, and so this newly, very newly wed drank his tequilas. I think that is what unites all of us married people who have blindly jumped in. It is now you plus one, ALWAYS. Every action that you take has a reaction in your partner. And while this might give some a bit of an acid reflux, it also means that someone will always have your back no matter what action one takes (or how many frijolitos you put in the jar).

So to that certain newlywed who we love dearly, “bienvenido a la vida de los oprimidos” (or, "welcome to the life of the oppressed”)…frijolitos or not, I have a good feeling it will be a hell of a ride for us all!

Oh, and to all interested, we are calling in auditions and would love it if someone could report on results. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

From Inception to Execution: Things Never Come Out As Planned... And For That We Are Grateful

Adaptability and patience; these are perhaps the most challenging assets that we as humans have and must develop in our lives. To say that life is always full of surprises is not only an overused cliché but does not even come close to how much anything that is planned could potentially change at a whim. Yet, these changes are what makes life… beautiful.

The real tale of our Thanksgiving is one which we could have never predicted, but the reality was amazing.  In order to properly tell it we must go back to the beginning.  A story which I hinted at in my previous post.

On Saturday November 20th, some friends which we had recently meet were shooting a pilot for a new show they were just developing. The setting for this episode was going to be a Worth Kitchen dinner. As the apartment was being lit and the cameramen were shooting Tamy and myself prepping the food and the apartment, I received a call from my parents telling me that my grandfather had just passed away. In shock and not knowing what exactly I needed to do next, I continued cooking. It was Tamy and Evita (producer and camerawoman) that took action and started packing up the equipment. It was 7:30 at the time that Evita and Beto (the other cameraman) left and at 11:30 both Tamy and myself were sitting on a plane on our way to Bogota.

Funerals are very sad, and this case was not different. However I do not share this with you guys looking for any condolence, my grandfather was 98 years old and he lived a very rich and full life. He brought us together as a family to wish him a sweet  (bittersweet) farewell. Our trip to Colombia was quick and unexpected, yet an amazing chance to reconnect with family members I have not seen in a while, especially my Grandmother.

There was a very special moment Tamy and I shared with my Grandmother, in the middle of a restaurant surrounded by uncles and cousins. She silently taps our shoulders and tells us “please do not say thank you nor any comments. You are the only ones I have a gift for and I do not want anyone else to know.” She slips a very small package into Tamy’s hand and tells us “This is a very lucky item that used to be my Grandmother’s and I want you to have it for your kitchen.” Its really the small details like this one that can completely change your day, your week, or your perspective.  We now had in our hands an amazing family heirloom that is over 150 years old… passed on to us in one of the sweetest ways possible. A great close to an emotional 4 days in Colombia.

And like that we found ourselves on our next plane heading to Mexico for our very intimate family Thanksgiving. The first of two Thanksgiving dinners that we had planned. Yes, I know, TWO!  And we took it upon ourselves to cook the two dinner’s on Thursday and Friday. You see, my friends from Mexico love the Thanksgiving tradition, not just because of the food, but because it’s a moment where the old high school group of friends, friends who have remained very close since our graduation, can come together and have a great time. Plus, they have been complaining how unfair it is that they have not participated in a Worth Kitchen event, so what better opportunity than this to have a special Thursday AND Friday dinner.

So friends, I present to you the very special Thanksgiving menus and pictures from our traveling roadshow in Mexico.

Dinner #1 Traditional Thanksgiving Menu
Lima Bean salad with pickled onions & cilantro

Italian inspired turkey with rosmeary, basil, & white wine as well as roasted vegetables
(gravy was made from turkey broth, drippings and all roasted veggies blended)
Stuffing - Italian bread stuffing with basil an Parmesan cheese
Mashed potatoes with hazelnut and cinammon
Candied Yams
Green beans with almonds and cilantro

Pecan Pie (store bought... I know but I did not have time to do everything! We arrived at 3:30 AM that day)

Plating the salad... man I love that kitchen!
The turkey just before it was removed from the oven. You might notice a small hole where the rosemary is coming out from, I stuffed it with butter and rosemary for additional flavor and tenderness.
The appetizer on the table as was set for the dinner. Notice the wine on the top left? Quintessa 1996. So good!
And this is what a traditional Thanksgiving plate looks like in the Donnelly Family household. I am pretty sure it is very similar as many home across the States. This one happens to be in Mexico.
Dinner #2 (On Friday) Thanksgiving a la Mexicana

Nopales (cactus) salad with red and green tomatoes and fresh cheese on a bed of stuffing souffle

Chipotle-honey rubbed turkey with kumquats and rosemary and "chile de arbol" pickled onions
Cilantro Pasta
Green beans with almonds and cilantro (we had a lot of green beans)

Yam (sweet potato) Crème Brulée

The turkey before going into the oven with a close up of the chipotle rub, rosemary and juicy kumquats.
The nopal salad lying on top of the stuffing. If you have never tried cactus before, it is very delicious, highly recommended. Every once in a while you can find them in Chelsea Market, but almost year round in Spanish Harlem markets.
Prepping the dishes as everyone awaits in the table behind me. 
And this is my take on a Mexican Thanksgiving. The gravy was made by reducing the juices and drippings from the turkey. The onions have been sitting in vinegar and chile juice for three days, they were SPICY! So good! And yes, the plates definitely added some additional Mexican flavor.
And this was the group of friends for whom we cooked the non-traditional (but what I hope will become a tradition) Thanksgiving. There is one important person missing from this picture due to the fact that he left early (once he saw the tequila being poured), my Dad. He joined us for the entire dinner.
Also missing is a picture of the dessert. They all came out terrible, however, the combination of yams in a crème brulée was definitely delicious and highly recommended for anyone to try.

Over all the Thanksginvings were amazing. And for all of those who donated to the Children's Cancer fund in Mexico, we raised $1,200. A great figure, especially considering all the complications we had leading up to the event. A very special Thank You to all of you who donated, and to all of you who helped us out so much in this project.

Adaptability and Patience is a virtue, but one we should always be thankful for as well.