Monday, July 20, 2009

Think Pink

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Photo Courtesy of Erin Toland

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.

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Photo Courtesy of Erin Toland

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!”

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Photo Courtesy of Erin Toland

“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.

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Photo Courtesy of Erin Toland

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)

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Photo Courtesy of Erin Toland

•    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.

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9 Responses to “Think Pink”


  1. Bells & family

    Oh I have had my fair share of kitchen blunders…that is when I cook, of course. I have been fortunate enough, however, that the only guests were my husband or mom or in-laws. I can see now why my dad thought frozen pizzas were a great food source when it was his turn to cook!

    I have made a great soup from (gasp) Rachel Ray’s cookbook. Everything was going well, until we went back for seconds and saw the kitty perched high above the stove on the cabinet and decided to get sick. Well you can figure out the rest….I chalk that up to a great kitchen blunder.

    Next, I attempted to make my husbands favorite chicken. I got the coating right, didnt even think to cut the chicken breasts in half so they could cook faster or pound them thin. So I ruined that as the coating was burnt by the chicken was cooked enough to eat.

    I attempted to make homemade gnocci once with homemade alfredo once. A complete disaster, the husband and roomate graciously ate it to make me happy but as soon as I tried it — I told them they didnt have to be nice. I cant even tell you what went wrong…it was HORRIBLE!

    I am lucky that whenever we do have a dinner party that my husband does the majority of the work, I plan the menus and set up but he cooks and prepares everything!

    I enjoyed your story, Kimberly, and I am sure that even though they were a little chewy, I bet they were still good.

    xoxo,
    Bells

  2. Paul Williams

    Wonderful post Kimberly!

    I just watched this video series last night, from of all places, Honda. I think the section on “failure” is fantastic. Hondas philosophy is amazing. Failure is REQUIRED. Imagine how far we could go without fear… Have a look for yourself.

    http://dreams.honda.com/#/feature_fa

    Time to fail!
    Paul

  3. mama

    Every good cook flops in the kitchen – remember to ask ur bro about french dressing chicken which turned into pizza night. Keep your spoon stirring and get back into the kitchen, esp when you come home haha.

  4. Snotty McSnobster

    Ah.Mazing to admit such a dreadful error for all to see! I personally enjoyed the carpaccio bundles but I was one of the lucky few to try them early on before they started turning in the late afternoon sun.
    While never admitting myself to a mistake in the kitchen I might note that if the carpaccio had been sliced thinner then maybe some of the “chewiness” would have been alleviated, no?

  5. Kimberly Belle

    Ciao Snotty, I think you’re onto something with the beef! Next time I will pound it thinner. Thank you to all who commented for sharing your sob stories and inspirational videos. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in my all-time favorite movie quote from the “Shawshank Redemption” – “Fear can hold you prisoner, Hope can set you free.” May we all be free in the kitchen and in our hearts! XO

  6. How I Lost 30 Pounds in 30 Days Without Diet

    Thanks for posting about this, I would love to read more about this topic.

  7. Midori

    Kimberly,

    This post — as so many of the others before it — had me doing all the following things at once:

    1. laughing

    2. squirming (um “vurkey” anyone?)

    3. thinking. (about life… about love…about beef carpaccio…)

    Cheers to you for taking the time to share all your magnificent adventures so candidly with us. They’re such a joy to read.

  8. Kimberly Belle

    Ciao Midori, thanks for sharing! I’m a sucker for a three part compliment. XO

  9. Sean McClure

    Great post on the pink party!!!!

    Quick tip with the chives!!! If you blanch them before you tie them they are much easier to work with!!!

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