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I have a good friend who commands a high post at Café Boulud. The other night he texted me after reading my latest tweet, which stated simply, “Procrastinating.” He wrote asking what it was I was avoiding. In truth, it was writing this post.
On Michael Ruhlman’s food blog he has a recent post about writer’s block, in which he displays an image of an actual wooden block that sits atop his desk, filled with pens and pencils, and the words “writer’s block” scribed across the front. Clever.
It seems he’s found himself in the midst of a happy blogger’s accident after posting a controversial tweet on the subject a few weeks back, claiming that writer’s block is really just an excuse for laziness. I gather that a great number of readers responded in anger. Like any blogger, I’m sure he’s just happy they’re responding. Nevertheless, in Ruhlman’s blog post on the subject he explains away their anger as evidence that he’s hit a nerve; he suggests that the very notion of writer’s block is nothing more than a crutch.
I tend agree. I’m the sort of person who reliably does what I say I’m going to do, to better and worse effect, but I get the job done. I meet deadlines. My menus read exactly as they taste. If paid to bake 7,000 cookies in a matter of 4 days, come hell, high water or a kitchen covered with a thick layer raspberry jam, I bake and bag 7,000 cookies. I’m a pragmatist who believes in the power of doing, and generally, this philosophy bears an abundance of well-earned fruit. However, I’ve certainly had my fair share of kitchen fuck-ups.
Most notably, there was my Valentine’s Day saltimbocca that Mr. Mortified publicly vilified as “vurkey,” a veal substance that resembles week old turkey but bites back like beef jerky. On Cinco de Mayo I was caught on camera making a version of queso fundido that was so runny, during the cooking lesson one student asked if he could spike it with tequila and drink it as a shot…that webisode will be posted for your enjoyment and my mortification later this month! And though it pains me to confess any likeness to Rachel Ray, I must admit, I almost always get distracted when multitasking in the kitchen and end up burning my bread or over-toasting my nuts when cooking for a crowd.
Just last month my friend from Café Boulud invited me to his rooftop Think Pink party in LES, where he served a menu of exclusively pink foods like, lamb shoulder grilled rare, red velvet cupcakes and tuna sashimi, all washed down with crisp bottles of sparkling rosé. I brought my Dinner Belle tested recipe for Beef Carpaccio Bundles. The party was attended by the glitterati of the food circuit in the city, so the meal was about as impressive as potluck gets. Dressed in pink and wearing a big smile, I was leaning in for seconds of the jamón ibérico (read: crazy good, crazy expensive Spanish ham our host smuggled stateside after a recent trip to Seville), when I overheard a party guest say of my beef bundles, “Ew! These suckers are chewy!”
“Chewy” is not a compliment unless we’re talking chocolate chip cookies, but neither is it a devastating critique. So they were a little chewy? So what? I’d made them several hours ago and they’d been sitting on the buffet, in the sun, turning an uncomfortable shade of gray since being plated that afternoon. “Chewy” was the least of my concerns, but seconds later my critic’s friend responded with a deathblow to my chef’s ego. He said, laughing, “They’re wet and rubbery. I spit mine out.”
Blushing a crimson shade of shame, I quickly walked away before eavesdropping my way into further culinary indignity. I tried convincing myself that my beef bundles were just misunderstood, but eventually came round to privately confessing my error after spotting half eaten bundles on plates strewn about the party.
Beef Carpaccio Bundles are an impressive canapé and have been a oft-requested item on many a catering menu I’ve written, but I’ve learned that they are best enjoyed indoors, out of the humid heat, and should always be made a’la minute. Done right, they are a perfect summer dish, light, crunchy and fresh. Provided you can get your hands on some fig vin cotto from an Italian imports store and have your butcher pound out sliced beef for you, the recipe below couldn’t be easier.
What’s not easy is living with failure, but what’s worse is giving up. I’m with Michael. Writer’s block is really just another word for procrastinating. It took me the entire weekend to get through the embarrassment of writing this blog post, but I did it; it’s not so pretty in pink, but I’m afraid there’s no nice way of sugar coating kitchen flops. In the kitchen as in life, we can only fight the good fight, learn from our mistakes, and never again serve raw beef at a BBQ on a steamy summer’s day.
Beef Carpaccio Bundles (makes 12)
• ¼ LB Baby Arugula (cleaned)
• 1 TB Fig Vin Cotto (substitute balsamic vinegar)
• 2 t Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper
• 12 paper thin slices of Beef Round (pounded by your butcher)
• 12 paper thin slices Parmigiano Cheese (cut with a vegetable peeler)
• 12 Chives
Make this dish to order. I’ve learned that it doesn’t keep well. If multiplying the recipe for a large party, prepare to be in the kitchen for quite some time, rolling and serving batches of one dozen bundles at a time.
Toss arugula with the vin cotto and oil and season it with salt and pepper to taste. I like a fair amount of pepper to add a real kick! Lay out one slice of beef on a flat surface. Place one slice of cheese and two tablespoons of the arugula in the middle of the beef and roll up tightly. Secure by tying a chive bow around the bundle; this step takes time and patience, as the chives have a tendency to tear if you’re not gentle. Repeat with the remaining beef. Place on platter and serve immediately.