Monday, January 23, 2012

Another Working Weekend

I had a lot going on this past weekend. That's good. The new year is starting off with some very creative projects and I couldn't be happier!

First up with the Beer Cake for my boss's son. He turned 30 this past weekend. When I showed up to deliver, I recognized a bunch of his friends. I went to school with a few of them and dated a couple back when I was in JHS. Why was this guy hanging out with such older people? Anyway, that was a bit of a shock. When my boss asked this guy Devon how he knew me, he said, "Kat was kind of a wild child back in the day."

I gave him this look like, "Pleeeeeeeeaaaaase don't say anymore!"

And he neatly tied it up with, "I always knew she would end up doing something creative. That cake is amazing!"

Here's the cake:

I know you can't really tell from this angle, but my wood grain came out AMAZING. I was fiercely proud of that.

From there, I had a birthday and I made one awesome Hello Kitty cake:

Pic has been cropped to protect the identity of the aging.

And finally, the cake pops. I had someone inquire about cake pops. I figured, why make a regular old cake pop when I am capable of making an AWESOME one? Then, I realized that the candy coating would not be as cooperative as I thought it would be. Fucking coating.

I'm not big on food trends. Anything trendy gets very popular very fast and the decent is just as quick and messy. Cupcakes. Cape Pops. Whatever it is; some person is on Good Morning America, claiming they invented it. And there are more than a handful of stores opening up in a hipster neighborhood near you.

Cake pops are not new. Bakers have been making them for YEARS with the leftover scraps from their cake work. It's basically cake crumbs mixed with leftover frosting, often with a shot of rum and then rolled in nuts, sprinkles, or cocoa. You may better know them as RUM BALLS. Fancier places coat them in melted fondant or chocolate. Neiman Marcus had the balls to try and sell a dozen for $50 a few Christmases ago. It's the invention of enterprising bakers who would rather NOT throw away food. They've been around for years.

The fanciness came about recently. They dip them in all kinds of crazy shit. Coat them in chocolate and then decorate the fuck out of them. This one lady "Bakerella" wrote a book about it and I must say her cake pops are quite spot on when she replicates characters. I went off her design to do Hello Kitty. Only, I painted on the face rather than using mini candy coated chocolate chips (because I didn't have any) and I used pink chocolate coating instead of white (because I didn't have anymore of that, either). Despite my animosity for the trendy, I will give credit where credit is due: Bakerella makes awesome cake pops.

Like I mentioned, the hardest part I had was the candy coating. It would not go to complete liquid form. It stayed lumpy and thick and even when I thinned it out with shortening, the fucking thing would not liquify enough for me to dip and coat the way I would with REAL tempered chocolate. It's fucking annoying. And I can see the problematic coating step in the finished product. It's not shiny and even AT ALL. See for yourself.

All in all, I know I still have a few things I need to work on and practice. Other than that, this year is starting off strong. I couldn't be more pleased.

I got stuck at a gig in Long Island Sunday and ended up missing my friend's art show. I was disappointed about that because I promised her I would be there, and I was meeting up with some people to grab a bite around that area afterwards. So, needless to say, I missed the art show and the awesome food after.

Work over play. Who would've guessed I'd ever have to make that decision? I feel like I lost a lot that one year where I didn't do much but be a "girlfriend". I made excuses NOT to work so I could lay naked in bed all day with my boyfriend and do nothing...but have sex and probably hit up a bar and get drunk....and then stumble home, get naked, have sex, and do it all over again. Ahh, what a life! LOL Seriously, if you asked me today if I'd rather have sex or stay up all night making a Hello Kitty cake, I'd probably pick the sex...(And then get up after to make the cake.)

All the momentum I built up while I was with Joel was stopped dead in it's tracks. But, I really needed that year off. I needed to understand what it is I really want out of this life. I had to find out what I really wanted out of a partner. I had to come to grips with my limitations and my potential as a chef. I know I need money to do all the fun things life has to offer, but I am not motivated by money. It becomes a tool to use to keep score. What happened when I finish off all the levels? Start a new game, I guess?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Burn in Hell"

I came across this article last night. After another boring date with someone who could, for all intents and purposes, been the East Coast counterpart of the Yelper who wrote this scathing review on Yelp about this restaurant "The Playground" in Santa Ana, Cali. My date was not only rude to the staff- from the hostess at the front, whom he told to seat us in the most "romantically placed" table in the "joint" before she could even finish her greeting, to the waiter and bus boys whom he addressed by snapping his fingers and "hey you-ing". He was nasty to the kitchen staff that he berated because his medium well burger was too medium for his taste. The chef eventually came out after the second time and told him he should order his burgers well done, going forward. (Frankly, I've learned that people who order medium-well are just morons who are too embarrassed to order well done in the first place.)

After I finished my awesome entree, I got up to speak to the chef myself. I apologized profusely for this jackass's behavior, traded kitchen stories with him (and learned we both went to the same culinary school), and explained that this is not the type of asshole I usually roll with. (I roll with an entirely DIFFERENT brand of assholes, thank you very much!)

He laughed, said it was fine and sent over a complimentary cheese plate after dinner to show he had no hard feelings. When the date complained he was lactose intolerant and didn't care for the cheese platter, the chef sent him a huge piece of chocolate cake, which he brought out himself with a wink. He mouthed at me, from behind my date, 'Don't eat this cake!' Jackass lapped it up like a stray dog.

When the night was over, I tried to split the check but Jackass insisted he was getting this one. Was it all the free booze the manager comped him when he kept sending his damn  comped burger back or the free cheese plate and chocolate cake that he was not being charged for that made him feel so generous? Perhaps.

Like many restaurants these days, at the very bottom was the breakdown of suggested tips. 15% would be this amount, 18% would be this amount, and 20% would be this amount. (Other places I have dined have started to throw in 25%, as well.) He scoffed at this, sneering at the audacity of a restaurant to suggest a tip. I saw what he scribbled and even with my wine-addled brain I know he tipped a little over 10%. I was embarrassed.

I kept at this date because I knew it was great blog candy. I mean, who doesn't want to write about some total douche bag who doesn't know he's a jackass and walks around thinking he's a golden god? This is the stuff funny anecdotes are made of! I had smoothed things over with the chef and the waiter when I spoke to them before dessert, but this was an insult I was not going to allow.

"You gotta be kidding me. You can't not tip them. You put them through hell tonight, and you're not even going to tip them? And, by the way, it's customary to tip for the items you were comped. You got nearly another $100 worth of free food and alcohol tonight. At the very least, you need to tip them for that."

He stared at me as though this was the first time I had spoken all evening. I gently suggested he get well done if pink wasn't his thing. And I politely told him (as did the waiter) that Kobe beef is rarely ever cooked further than medium. He ignored me and everyone around him. I smiled nicely and sympathetically at the staff who kept their calm as this Jackass did his thing. I apologized and said the "please" and "thank you's" he so obviously refused to give them. I had enough.

"The service was atrocious. The food is garbage. Why would I voluntarily give them more money for a terrible evening?"

"Because they had to put up with you!!"

At that point, I got up, put on my coat and started to bundle myself in my scarf and hat. He signed the check and quickly tried to catch up to me. The people who were still in the restaurant knew what was going on and they all eagerly watched as this Hell Date came to a close. I reached into my wallet, pulled out $60, slammed it on the table and shouted- "THIS IS THE TIP!! IF YOU EVEN DARE TO TAKE THIS MONEY OFF THIS TABLE I WILL CUT YOUR BALLS OFF!! I'VE NEVER BEEN OUT WITH A BIGGER JACKASS. DO EVERYONE A FAVOR AND STOP DATING. YOU ARE CLEARLY NOT THE KIND WHO SHOULD EVER REPRODUCE!!!"

Yes, Drama Kat strikes again. I had a headache from the cheap wine he ordered. I was mortified by the way he treated the people in that restaurant, and I was so disappointed that I landed yet ANOTHER jackass to add to my long list of assholes, thieves, liars, and scumbags.

Now, it was his turn to look mortified. I think it was because all eyes were on him. As I walked out a few people hi-fived me, gave me a thumbs-up, and a "You go girl!" cheer of camaraderie. I came home, showered, and settled down to do a little reading and I found this:

After reading that, I couldn't help but hear the hint of elitism in Naseem's tone. Had this restaurant not had over a hundred fantastic reviews I may have taken his criticism seriously. The mandatory 3% for the kitchen probably would have irked me in the days of old, but having been in the fire, myself, those guys are really underpaid. And the type of food they turn out sounds like a meal I'd stand up and applaud after I was done eating. In the grand scheme of things; $3 of a $100 bill is not a lot to sneeze at. Get over it. All in all, I figured, well, this guy came on an off-night, I guess. Then, I read the chef's response. Yelp is awesome, in that they allow business to rebut a review with an explanation or their side. Read on:

Well, on a business level, this guy did all the right things. Comp drinks. Remove disliked dishes from the table and the bill. Try and ask them what they want. Explain why things are done a certain way. And if all else fails, always keep your cool and be polite.

This is taken from a discussion forum on his own website, addressing this incident. 

"The artistic license we allow the kitchen touches on a sensitive tension between the chefs in the kitchen and the customers in the seats. The chefs design their dishes in the way they believe will highlight the quality of the ingredients, the culinary art involved and the customer’s experience. Every component of every dish is carefully considered and tailored to complement the other elements of the dish. Regardless whether you and I agree that they have created a masterpiece, they do their best to design the perfect dish.
If a customer orders risotto, he would never dream of telling the chefs that they should use a different white wine in its preparation; if the customer could detect and disapprove of the white wine being used, he would either not order the dish or say that it did not suit his taste. In that case, we would take it off his check and offer to substitute something more to his liking. (Much as we did for the infamous one-star reviewer.)"
Even Chef Quinn's response was quite restrained given this angry customer's rant. Refusing to burn Kobe beef to a crisp is every chef's God-given right on any given day and twice on Sunday! It's his restaurant. If he wants to serve fried rice out of a coconut with a flaming shot class of Malibu stuck in the middle, that's his right. It's the customer's right NOT to order it.

Having been Food-educated, I have my own strong opinions about the way things should be cooked and why they are cooked that way. I side with my professional colleagues on a lot of things, and I stand on my own grounds for a handful of others. (Fois-gras- not for me.) I've had shouting matches with my dad because he doesn't like rare meat, and I refuse to cook skirt steak any further than rare. (It's a crime, I tell ya!) I've walked away from a bloody piece of meat after throwing the tongs on the table and yelling, "Well, then cook it yourself!!!"

I've rudely interrupted an ex-bf in the middle of his order- a Filet Mignon- medium well. "You don't really want that medium-well, do you? Don't you mean medium-rare?"

After looking embaressed in front of the waiter and me, he sheepishly said, "Yeah, I got mixed up. I meant just medium."

He gracefully handled it, but looking back, how obnoxious was I to yell at someone with a look of utter shock on my face because I disagreed with his style of meat? Maybe he really liked his meat being cooked to the texture of a hockey puck. Maybe the sight of pink turned his belly. How would I know? All I knew was that I had to get a hold of my culinary boner and set it at ease. Let people do what they want and only offer my opinion when they asked. Incidentally, when he was ordering wine he casually mentioned the last time we had steak near his house because he really liked the wine he had with it, and I was able to give the name of the wine without a blink. (Malbec) Both he and the waiter looked impressed about that little parlor trick and he went with that type, and I was hoping it made up for my rudeness with the steak.

Can culinary professionals get out of hand with their knowledge and impatience with people who just don't know any better? Sure. (I nearly had a heart attack when someone attempted to make cheesecake sans water bath.) But, as someone with a skill that so many people respect these days, I think I have to learn how to reign it in sometimes. No one likes a know-it-all, my elementary teachers used to say to me. Sometimes I just can't help it.

People who find out I went to culinary school want to wow me with their food or impress me with their wares because my stupid little opinion matters to them. And, in the past few years, I've learned to be gracious and kind about it. I've eaten some pretty horrible stuff, but 99% of the time, I've not bitten anyone's head off over it. (I'm so sorry to that 1%! I didn't know any better!!) And I've learned things from places I didn't know I could gain knowledge from.

I think this chef handled himself well. I don't disagree with his refusal to cook meat in a way he does not agree with. I don't disagree with the 3% tip to the kitchen staff, even though I know that MOST people will not understand. Unless you've been there or massaged the back or feet of someone who has been- you just don't get it. No tv show in the world will ever make you understand the mental and physical pressure it is to work in a busy kitchen. It's unlike anything I have ever experienced before in my life.

My disdain for picky eaters is not a well kept secret, and my friends who are guilty of this know that I have been better about trying to accommodate their nacho-loving, fancy-food-hating ways. They are almost apologetic when they brush past my ginger-soy chicken tenders or my 8-cheese mac n cheese, in order to put a well-done burger, no veggies, and mayo on their plate. (ICK!!!!!!)And I know I'm almost always going to be the one to tip more because they don't understand the reason why we tip the waiter more than the standard 15% and how much a nice smile, a polite "please" and a sincere "thank you" means to a person who is on their feet carrying heavy trays all night long to people who barely glance up to acknowledge them until they want another drink.

Naseem is a dick. He sounds like one of those well-to-do culinary school grads who already had a $100,000.00 a year gig and went to school for the fun of it; not really to sweat and burn in a busy kitchen. Chef Quinn handled it better than I would have. Cheers to him for that. I would have chased him out of my restaurant after slapping him in the face with a piece of raw meat, all while shaking my make-your-own butter to the beat of Fuck You by Lily Allen..

If I had my own bakery, my mom would be in there any chance she got to show it off to her friends and walk around like a proud peacock. And she has my permission. If anyone ever said anything ill of it- I'd tell that fucker to burn in hell, too.

Here's my kitchen philosophy. I will try and get you to try something; even if you tell me you don't like it. Try it again. You might change your mind. I will try to cook things centered around what you DO like mostly because I like you and I generally like making people happy. I will insist on cooking it my way, because I think I know everything. I will kindly suggest a "better" way of doing things if I see you committing a culinary crime against food. I will admit breakfast is my weakest meal and I suck at it. I practice and I try, but since it's not something I eat regularly (ever)it's hard for me to get it right. It's like trying to ask a vegan to cook your steak black and blue. They may try, but their heart isn't in it and it will probably suck. Frozen veggies are not my friends. I know some people have a knack for cooking these suckers just right so that they are still crispy and fresh-tasting, but I can't. Besides frozen corn or frozen peas, my veggies only enter my fridge FRESH. Food is fun. Food is love. If I don't like you- I will not feed you. (Ok, I probably will feed them, but only because I'm probably a better human being than they are- which is most-likely why I wouldn't like someone.)

Can some chef's be elitist and full of themselves? Sure. I beg you to go out and rent, no wait- TORRENT- the movie  "Bitter Feast" (it was a grade C, at best). The premise was about a chef who find the critic who ripped him apart in his blog and take his revenge out on him for costing him a job. Shitty actors and special effects, but a chilling story.....Ok, a weak story but it goes so well with my post today.

We all can ride the "I'm AWESOME" train a little hard sometimes. (Some moreso than others.) However, this chef got a lot of flack in the culinary world for popping off. I feel opposite. I think he was pretty damned tame and handled a negative situation the best way he knew how, and got slapped with a snarky review after going above and beyond "the customer is always right" motto.

Then again, that's my opinion. What do I know?

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Vegan Challenge- I kicked ass. I made two separate cake batters and 3 different frostings. The were received with extreme happiness and produced massive smiley faces.

Even without butter and eggs, those little baked concoctions rose to the occasion. I only took pics of the chocolate but the vanilla came out fantastic, as well. I made a cocoa powder based frosting to go with those. That's the pictures I took. I also made vanilla with vanilla frosting, and vanilla with hazelnut frosting. Overall, even the non-Vegans were eating them up like hot cakes!

The second challenge came when my friend Josh sent me a pic of the cutest Cookie Monster cupcakes and demanded I replicate. This one:

Cuteness. I've seen this design replicated many times over. Some came out awesome and some not-so-awesome. One blogger used all blue colored frosting to achieve Cookie's shaggy pelt, but anyone who eats frosting that blue in that quantity will be pooping Smurfs for a week. And that much blue food color tastes nasty.

This picture uses coconut colored blue. It's probably also a little processed. I used that method instead, but didn't process. Dried out shredded coconut is already a hard texture to sell. Grinding it down even further makes it feel like sawdust in the mouth. So, I colored it and kept it long and shaggy looking.

Banana cake with chocolate hazelnut frosting. Actually, it could have used a little more hazelnut flavor to go with the banana cake, but hindsight is a bitch. Maybe my palate is a little bit off. Anyway, I think my Cookie Monsters came out ok. Not as round as this original, but still pretty bad ass. It would have been even more fantastic if I made my own cookies, but admittedly, they're Chips Ahoy. I took a shortcut. Forgive me!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Good Grub: Little Muenster


I went out on a first date last week with a Geeker, and was plesantly surprised when he suggested this spot as a fist meal. It's small. It's run by hipsters. It's located in the Lower East Side. Oh, and it's all about the mother fucking GRILLED CHEESE!!! Yes, people. I shit you not. The Mecca of fancy cheese between bread WITH an option of uber fancy marrow butter. MARROW BUTTER, for Christ's sake!!
Well, I nearly walked past the place a few times because there is no large signage outside. The only way I found it was because I recognized the espresso bar next door that was pictured on google maps when I was mapping my way there. My date ended up walking right past it, and he lives a couple blocks away from the place.

We get inside and all I smell is the buttery toasty aroma of bread on hot grill. YUMMMMMM. All the sit-down tables were taken, but the counters were open and I was fine with that since I had no chemistry with my date and I wanted to keep it as casual as possible.

I had it all planned out. I was going to order the Manchego/Anchovy/Caramelized Onion/Mushroom/Red Pepper combo. However, would you guess that it was the ONLY sandwich crossed off the chalkboard, and the substitute was nothing close to what I wanted? Just my luck. My date suggested we order two different sammies and trade halves with each other. We both got the corn chowder soup. The combos came with chips. I ended up getting the Gruyere/Chevre/Leek Confit/Pancetta. He got the Stilton/Muenster/Pear Puree.
The soup was bland and needed lots of pepper. The chips were cold and tasted stale. The sandwiches.....Oh, lord!!!!! Mine was divine!! Salty, flavorful, crunchy, cheesy. The only thing I didn't enjoy was biting into the cold goat cheese in the middle, but thinking about it now, how plesant is warm goat cheese anyway? It's not. I didn't taste much of a leek confit going on, but the pancetta was crispy and delicious and the gruyere was perfectly melted, hot, and tasty. The date suggested that perhaps the soup was under-seasoned to balance out the saltiness of the cheese combinations. Granted, he may have a point, but food should be able to stand on it's own, and under-seasoned soup is unacceptable.

The Pear Puree/Stilton combination was like dessert. The tangy blue cheese combined with the sweet pear puree was heaven. Simply put, I saved his half for last so I could finish my meal on a high note. Since Mr. Suave whipped out his wallet before I could finish ordering, I didn't get to add on the extra $1 worth of marrow butter. I wanted it like a crack whore wants a rock. I wanted it BAD. But, he insisted on paying, and it guilted me into holding back. In hindsight, if I wanted it, I should have just asked for it. It's a damn dollar for Pete's sake, and if the dude scoffed at an extra dollar on my order than he really didn't deserve the second date anyway.

The date was forgettable, as was the bland soup. The vibe in Little Muenster was fantastic. If it wasn't so out of the way, I could see it becoming a regular stop on my way home. Instead, however, it will be sort of a destination spot whenever I'm out drinking in the LES. What better way to sop up the liquor then to line your tummy with a hearty gourmet grilled cheese?

Yelp reviews complain about the apathetic hipster staff. Are they young and hipster? As sure as their droopy beanies are barely hanging on their heads, they are. But they were very friendly and it's not like there's table service anyway. You will come out smelling like food. I don't care. I've sat on the subway next to people who have smelled a lot worse. Other Yelpers complain about a $9 grilled cheese. Well, if it's cheaper to make at home, then by all means, go to Whole Foods or Trader Joes, buy all the different components to make ONE of their combos and scratch your head when you walk out of the store having spent at least $30. Good cheese isn't cheap, and neither is good meats. $9 is the high end of their menu and it is WELL worth it. In fact, a grilled American cheese on whole wheat with bacon will run nearly $7 in some diners. For the extra two bucks, you get REAL artisan cheese, REAL cured meats, REAL artisan bread, and plenty other things you won't find at your local Omega Diner. (Sorry, guys! I still love the diners, though!)

Little Muenster was a BIG hit. It's not a meal I can eat every week. It's artery clogging and fattening, and if you're Asian, you WILL be popping the Lactaid before you head in there. However, like any comfort food, there is a time and a place and an occasion to indulge, and if you are going to be treating yourself, why not do it at a place that knows what the fuck they're doing? 

My date; never again. I'm glad he was gentleman enough to pay for dinner. There aren't many of those guys left out there! And many thanks to him for picking a great spot. 

The fancy grilled cheese- Oh, you and I shall meet again! ;-)

100 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002