Thursday, November 4, 2010

Goodbye, New York!

My mom's family from the Philippines has been staying with us the last couple of days. Because I've been busy with personal things, I haven't spent much time at home. She asked me to come home last night to cook for them. They have heard stories from other relatives about my skills and wanted to taste for themselves.

I started them with crusty Italian bread smothered in my bruschetta mix- diced vine-ripened tomatoes, minced red onion & garlic, fresh basil chiffonade and a 25 year old balsamic and imported extra virgin olive oil blend. I roast the sliced bread in the oven with a light brushing of REALLY GOOD QUALITY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL!  I can't stress the importance of a good quality ingredient. Parmesan cheese DOES NOT come out of a green can sitting in your pantry!!!! Go buy a small chunk and grate it yourself!! You will NEVER go back to a green can again!! Anyway, good olive oil doesn't cost a whole lot either. I bought a very nice sized bottle for $6 at Trader Joes.  That's another tangent. Trader Joes has some of the BEST quality things for fantastic prices. I get a lot of my pantry staples from them. Spices, oils, vinegars, condiments- you name it. They kick Whole Foods ass any day! They reusable bags are so worth the price, too. Anyway, when the bread comes out of the oven, immediately take a clove of garlic and start rubbing the toasted bread. It infuses the garlic flavor without the lethal dragon breath. Mix that bruschetta mixture a good hour before service and let it sit so all the flavors can get to know each other in a sinful little orgy in your fridge. It's worth it!!! When you're ready to go, lay out the bread and smother it in the mix. It's a quick appetizer for your guests to snack on while you're still cooking.

Next up was a small appetizer of lobster ravioli in Vodka sauce. I didn't have time to make fresh ravioli, and to be honest with you- I really hate killing lobsters. It bothers me in a way I can't quite put into words. I got two boxes from Iavarone Brothers and called it a day. I also bought a jar of Trader Joes Vodka Sauce and improved on it a bit. I added some lump crab meat and a couple shakes of Tabasco sauce. Trader Joes to the rescue again! With two per person, it was received very well.

So, this is where I fucked up a little. I should have made a veggie dish, but I forgot to buy any veggies. Instead, I made another pasta dish. Talk about carb overload!! Tri-colored cheese tortellini with diced honey ham and petite pea in a roasted garlic alfredo sauce. I made that sauce myself. They loved it.

For the main course, I made a chicken marsala with a thick sweet, brown marsala wine reduction and wild mushrooms served over whole wheat farfalle. Chicken marsala is one of my favorite go-to dishes when I go to Italian restaurants. It's not often made very well, but I always hold out a little hope. The one I made last night kicked ass over ANY other marsala dish I have EVER made. The sauce was so thick and viscus you could see it gleaming from the serving dish. The mushrooms were a nice blend of porcinis, baby bellas, chanterelles, and regular whites. I made enough to serve 20 people. That meant a nice heaping portion for all 10 people last night, with leftovers for today in case anyone wanted more. They were clean plates and no leftovers when it was all said and done.

As a side, I made a garlic mozzarella bread- cut a loaf of Italian bread lengthwise. Blend together butter, minced garlic & Italian herbs. (Microwave for 20 seconds and mix.) Spread along the inside of the bread. Pile on heaps of mozzarella cheese. Sandwich that sucker back up, wrap in foil and bake it in the oven for 20 minutes. It was GONE!

Dessert was a lot less complicated. I was tired. VERY tired. I macerated strawberries in some sugar and brandy. I whipped some marscapone cheese with a touch of Kahlua. I had left over cupcakes from the other night. I put down a layer of diced cake. topped with a dollop of the drunk marscapone, heaped on some macerated strawberries, and then finished with some chocolate whipped cream. They were in 7th heaven. The problem was that they wanted more, but I didn't have any more. To this day, I thank my lucky stars for the FANTASTIC dessert idea that a very awesome woman taught me- Gelato and Liquor!! Chocolate Hazelnut gelato topped with white chocolate Godiva liquor and vanilla whipped cream. These people thought they died. They couldn't express how much they loved everything.

After dinner and during talks, they asked me why I haven't pursued my cooking career more aggressively. My mom answered that I keep letting personal crisis' stop me from moving forward. (Maybe she has a point.) I also mentioned that I didn't know if I wanted to stay in NY or not. That's when it came.

"Move to the Philippines with us. You'll find private chef work right away. You know your grandfather left you money and property there. You don't even have to work if you don't want to."

This was the first I was hearing of this!! Then, she added, "Or you know your aunties or uncles in Australia are always looking to open a new business. Would you ever relocate there?"

What's that? Did I hear a choir of angels come down from the Heaven I didn't believe in to serenade me as proof that miracles really do happen?!?!?!?!?!

While the draw of living like Paris Hilton in the Philippines may seem appealing, that's really not the kind of life for me. I'd love to visit and take a load off for a month or two, but I couldn't live that way, even if  I wanted to. The need to provide for myself is just too strong within me. Australia on the other hand has always been a tempting dream of mine. Even if I fail, at least I've tried and lived in a country I've always wanted to go.

They told me to think long and hard about it. All I have to say is "yes" and they will take care of the rest. I really do love cooking for people; especially when I'm NOT being paid to do it. It warms my soul like a cup of hot cocoa during a snow storm. If I can find a way to love it like that again while making a living- I guess I'd have it all, wouldn't I?