Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cooking Party... at Work!

I love my job. For several reasons, here is one: what do you think my department did when we got budget for a one-day teambuilding event? Paintball, white-water rafting, going to see a game, some other silly thing that grown-ups do on a company expence? A cooking class and a winery tour! Yesterday, almost entire IT department (cannot leave the company without IT support for a whole day, so a few people had to stay behind. We'll make it up for them) got on a bus to go to Ramekins cooking school in Sonoma, where we would put on aprons and cook ourselves a fancy lunch. One reason why I like to work in the IT department: when all of your dear colleagues rush to the bathroom at the same time to wash their hands before the cooking class, the line is in the mens room, not in ladies.

Now picture this: 18 computer geeks, each of them able to tell a straight from a cross-over network cable without looking twice, but most having very foggy idea of how to hold a chef's knife, in a large and well equipped professional kitchen, trying to cook a four-course meal. Well, we didn't do that bad. There are a few hard-core foodies among us, and the rest were full of enthusiasm at an opportunity to actually touch real food, so with the help of four instructor chefs we managed just fine.

What we did:

Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

Caramelized Onion and Potato Tart

Chopped Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

Herbed Salt-Crusted New York Strip with Brandy-Peppercorn Sauce

Balsamic Roasted Potatoes with Cipollini Onions

Green Beans with Rosemary Gremolata

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

The best entertainment was provided by two Helpdesk guys cooking the steaks. Very large strip steaks are coated by a white mass made of lots of beaten egg whites (the yolks go into the Creme Brulee), salt, chopped parsley, rosemary and thyme, baked at 475F for about 15 minutes, then, after 10 minute rest, the salty crust is broken and discarded, the steaks removed, sliced, and served with the flavored butter. I wouldn't repeat this riecipe at home, it's more for show than for flavor, and I beleive that similar but better results can be achieved by brining the steak with the herbs for one or two days, then wiping it dry, brushing on some oil and grilling it. But when the guys started smashing the egg/salt mixture over the steaks with both spatulas and bare hands, competing who does more and better, it looked somewhat like wrestling in the snow. And we were not there to get the most efficient recipes, we were there to have fun, right?

My job was separating the eggs (haven't seen eggs that small and fresh in years!) and making the flavored butter for the steak, so here is the butter recipe as I remember it:

Brandy-peppercorn butter

1/2 lb salted butter, at room temperature
2 shallots, finely minced
1 tsp thyme leaves, finely minced
1 Tbsp parsley, finely minced
juice of 1 lemon
1-1/2 tsp black peppercorns, crushed or coarsly ground
1/2 cup brandy

1 sheet of parchment paper, approximately 15x15 in

In the mixing bowl of a food processor, combine butter, shallots,thyme, parsley, lemon juice and pepper.

Process at slow speed until well mixed together.

In a heavy sautee pan, reduce the brandy to 3 Tbsp.

Add brandy to the butter mixture and process again.

With a flexible spatula, scrape the butter mixture onto the parchment paper and form into a thick log. Twist the ends. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more to firm. Remove from paper and slice into thin disks. Serve over hot steaks.

This butter (and other flavored butters) can be easily frozen for several month. When ready to serve, bring to almost room temperature to slice, then add on top of grilled fish, steak, or vegetables. As the butter melts, it naturally makes a flavorful sauce.

Notes from this class (more for myself than for others):

- The instructor suggested that to separate a large number of eggs (I had 3 dozen) it's easiest to break them all carefully into a large bowl, then pick up the yolks with a slotted spoon. However, with eggs that fresh the white literally hugs the yolk and you cannot pick it up with the spoon, so I still had to do them one by one using half-shells and fingers.

- It's easier to crush peppercorns in a mortar than to gring in an electric grinder - more control.

- Watch this brandy! I almost evaporated it all, the pan was much heavier than the ones I'm used to, so after I took the reduced brandy off the fire it continued cooking. Had to rush it to the processor before it was gone.

- A hand towel is a must, in a professional kitchen even more than at home, and should be kept in the apron at all times.

- I want a stand mixer and a flexible spatula!

- You can trust men with cooking a steak, even if they are computer geeks.

Iron Horse 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay
Jordan Alexander Valley 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon


francesca said...

very interesting experience and the recpe looks very good.
thanks for sharing

amarillo said...

I'll type some more recipes later. The Green Goddess salad was great.