Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Hath Padma Wrought

I carefully and diligently avoided Top Chef for three or four seasons. But Marcie and Steve had to mention it at dinner once (you guys suck) and then of course I had to watch it, because I want to be Marcie and Steve when I grow up (not one or the other of them, but both, at the same time.) And turns out I was avoiding it for good reason. See, if I wasn't a whatever-it-is-I-am, I'd want to be a chef. Or a political aide. Or a dolphin. But right now, totally chef. (Maybe a political aide's chef. Or a chef's dolphin... But in all seriousness, my absolute dream died-and-gone-to-heaven job would probably be White House chef.)

So yeah, basically I looove to cook. I didn't need Top Chef so I could copy it or anything, but it does inspire me to get back in the kitchen and try stuff. I'm allowing myself to experiment more with flavors, not work with recipes but try to create my own dishes using what I know about food, which means I'm making it a priority to learn more about technique and flavor combinations and pairings and knife skills and allll of that. My Christmas list this year was loaded with culinary technique bibles like The Professional Chef and Larousse Gastronomique, and I somehow ended up with three salt mills in my stocking. (I have a thing for different salts. Having only one mill would make me crazy.) The area that I most need work in, unsurprisingly, is meat. Funny how almost 20 years as a vegetarian will dull one's skills. I'm having such fun, though, and it would seem Travis is not opposed to these new experiments of mine, even if it does mean the grocery budget has inflated a bit.

Some of my more successful recent dishes?

Pan-grilled flank steak with truffled Maytag blue cheese sauce, a port-balsamic reduction, fried sage leaves, and roasted winter vegetables. (Swap the steak with scallops for me, and puree the leftover vegetables with some spices for an awesome soup.)

Sauteed organic chicken breasts with oyster mushrooms in a white wine beurre blanc, roasted carrots, and cauliflower puree (a new favorite side dish).

And Christmas Eve's dinner: roasted cornish hens with rosemary citrus butter, cauliflower puree (yes, again), roasted carrots and brussels sprouts, fresh baked artisan bread (thank you, Adelle!) and cranberry-corn relish spiked with thai chili and shallots. Oh, and of course, because what's Christmas without the decadence, chocolate mousse with minted creme fraiche.

When I feel like taking up a new hobby, I don't screw around.