July 2011 Archives
We started our Great Minds Eat Alike series in order to mix up the usual BGSK offerings with interviews and submissions by cooks and eaters whose mentality towards cooking and eating meshes with ours. Today we are incredibly excited to bring you a great anecdote and some quarter-life reflections from Lauren Shockey, author of Four Kitchens, which came out this week. Lauren Shockey is a food writer whose articles have appeared in many print and online publications including “The Village Voice,” “The New York Times,” “The Wall Street Journal,” “Slate,” and “The Atlantic Food Channel,” among many others.
Four Kitchens is an adventurous, food-filled memoir of the year Lauren spent at age 25 working in restaurant kitchens around the world. Her thoughts on career, finding yourself, and cooking all the time hit home with these quarter life cooks and we hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say, too.
We’re also happy to be giving away two copies of Lauren’s book. For a chance to win, leave a comment telling us what you’d be doing if you didn’t have your 9 to 5. For an extra entry, tweet about the giveaway @BGSK @ldshockey. Good luck!
–Cara and Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS
Just a few years ago, I landed in your standard 9-to-5 office job and almost immediately hated it. It was my first full-time position out of college, so naturally I occupied the bottom of the totem pole, spending my days photocopying and staring bleary-eyed at my computer screen for hours on end.
“This job sucks,” I told my mom.
“It’s supposed to suck. Everyone’s first job sucks,” she said.
As autumn surrendered to the gray gloom of winter, I thought more about what I enjoyed, and that was cooking. I decided to go to culinary school. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I wanted to be a chef, but I thought I would give it a try.
Several months later, I handed in my notice and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City. It was a blast. My newfound friends and I spent our days whisking and dicing and filleting and our afternoons nursing beers at the bar across the street.
But when I got out into the real world and began apprenticing in restaurants, I realized that my culinary education hadn’t really begun. When I stepped foot inside wd~50, a restaurant in New York City that serves somewhat experimental and modernist cuisine, I learned I wasn’t even holding my knife correctly. This was my first “real” restaurant job and I was slower than slow—it took me half an hour to cut long beans—a task that should have taken ten minutes. I didn’t know how to stock the walk-in and felt perpetually out of place. I couldn’t even look Wylie Dufresne, the chef, in the eye, for fear that he’d catch me doing something wrong. But gradually I got used to the hustle and bustle. Ultimately, after a year of working in restaurants around the world, I had finally found my footing. Yet, ironically, working in restaurants made me realize that while I enjoyed the energy and rush of professional cooking, home cooking was what I truly loved. When you work in a restaurant—especially at the lower levels—you rarely get to see diners enjoying your food. Repetition plays a significant role in your tasks, since guests come to restaurants with specific expectations of dishes. You can’t improvise and experiment the way you might in your own kitchen.
Now that I’ve returned from my culinary adventures, people always ask me if they should attend culinary school, and I always respond the same way. “Why do you want to go? Is it because you want to be a chef?” I’ll say. Sure school provides you with a great foundation and breadth of experiences. But it’s also very expensive, and when you’re making $9 or $10 an hour as a prep cook, it’s going to take a long time to pay back any loans.
What’s more, my restaurant experiences showed me that you don’t necessarily need culinary school to be a chef. Yes, it might teach you ten different ways to chop carrots, but if it’s not the way that the restaurant where you’re working chops their carrots, it won’t matter. My advice? Apprentice for a month or two before enrolling. Believe me, restaurants always want free labor. You don’t need to go around the world, but just make sure that you enjoy restaurant life. Yes, it might be expensive to work without pay for a month, but in truth, it will be cheaper than shelling out for culinary school and discovering you don’t want to be a chef. If you love it, amazing! But even if you end up like me and decide that being a chef isn’t for you, you will still have had some amazing adventures along the way.
We got a wonderful write up in the Martha’s Vineyard Times! Check out what they had to say about In the Small Kitchen here.
Check out the recap of our reading at the New Canaan Library, and our interview with Patch.com here!
If you’re in the greater NYC area this coming Monday, August 1st, join us at Ted and Amy’s Supper Club for a hands on class that tackles your favorite take-out dishes at home! We’ll be making some of our favorite recipe from the book: BGSK Peanut Noodles, Vietnamese Fisherman’s Stew, and Pineapple Cashew Fried Rice. Better yet, within the cost of the class, you’ll get to go home with a copy of In The Small Kitchen. For more info or to purchase tickets, click here.
Here’s a big old disclosure: this dish isn’t really all that compatible with the kinds of limited resources we talk so much about. It doesn’t really save on space–in fact it uses quite of a few pots, pans, and bowls. Time? Not with all the rising of the dough and washing of the fresh arugula. Money? It certainly is economical to make bread from scratch, and the merguez in this dish gets stretched. But merguez, like most meat, isn’t exactly cost-free either. And skill? Depending on your confidence level, you won’t find anything here hard, per se; but the meal does require a good sense of kitchen timing, and the patience to leave bread dough alone long enough that it can get a good rise.
Okay, then. Why am I featuring these grill breads? If you looked at the picture and salivated, or read the title and drooled, then the answer is obvious. These things are damn good. With a little bit of planning (the merguez filling and the dressing can be prepared ahead of time, the dough can be made in the morning and left to rise in the fridge, and the vegetables can be prepped and sliced beforehand) and perhaps a sous chef for the moment of assembly, you can indeed whip these up. Your stomach and your partners in dinner crime will thank you, even if you feel like you could use a good long nap when you’re done cooking. Hey, sometimes you gotta go all out.
Like a lot of what we have been/will be posting this summer, these breads work great on a grill. They get blistery and pockmarked, creating lots of little crevices where extra olive oil can soak in. I was curious if they’d work at home on a grill pan, and lo and behold they did. As with a real outdoor grill, you have to work fast as you make these–kind of like with stir fry, you’ve got to have everything ready to go in advance. Then you can be stretching dough, brushing it with oil, grilling, scattering merguez, and tossing a salad, practically all at once. It’s kind of a feat.
To make matters worse, on the day I was dead set on making these, I couldn’t find merguez at any store. I ended up following Mrs Wheelbarrow’s recipe for Homemade Merguez. I bastardized it so as not to make myself a martyr, and it really wasn’t too hard. Still, unless you adore juggling, I’d suggest buying some at the store (or homemaking it days in advance) if you plan to use it in this recipe.
So there you have it. If nothing else, hopefully this recipe will give you a sense of me when I’m in my element in the kitchen, four pans going on the stove, probably something spilled on the floor, and sweat dripping off my chin. Fun!
From my kitchen, throwing bread on the grill, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Merguez Grill Breads with Fennel-Arugula Salad
3/4 pound merguez
1 recipe grill bread
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 bunch fresh arugula, rinsed well and dried
1 small bulb fennel, cut paper thin, preferably on a mandolin
To make the filling: Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat and film it with olive oil. Add the merguez and cook, flipping a few times, until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate, and, when cool enough to handle, use your fingers or a knife to crumble into smaller-than-bite-sized piece. Turn the heat down to low and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, translucent, and slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Return the merguez crumbles to the pan and return the heat to medium-high to get some of the sausage pieces nice and brown. Keep warm until ready to make the grill breads.
To make the salad: combine the shallot, orange juice, red wine vinegar, and mustard in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together well. Slowly drizzle in 6-8 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking as you go. (For more on how to make salad dressing, click here.) Add a pinch of salt, then taste for balance of flavors, adding more salt or olive oil as you like. Scatter the fennel slices on top of the dressing, then add the arugula. Don’t toss yet–set aside.
Place your grill pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the pan heat for 5-7 minuts until it’s almost too hot to hold your hand just above the surface of the grill.
Bring over the four balls of dough you’ve made (see below), and form the first one into a rough rectangle or circle about 10 inches across. Brush the top generously with olive oil, then place it on the grillpan, oil side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is cooked and has grill marks. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then flip the bread. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the second side is cooked. As the second side cooks, scatter one quarter of the merguez crumbles across the top, pressing in slightly. When the second side is done, slide from the grill onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining three balls of dough.
Toss the salad with the dressing and scoop a big handful on top of the merguez on each grill bread. Eat immediately!
Adapted from Let the Flames Begin
Makes enough for 4 breads
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 1/2-3 cups flour
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
1/2 cup beer
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/2 cup of the flour. Add the warm water and mix until blended. Cover with a damp towel and set aside in a warm-ish place in your kitchen for about 30 minutes, until bubbly.
Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and the beer to the yeast mixture and mix well. Add the cornmeal and the 1 teaspoon salt; mix again. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing as you go until you have a soft dough. Turn it onto a board and knead for 5-8 minutes until satiny and smooth.
Wash and dry the mixing bowl and coat it with olive oil. Place the dough back in the bowl, turn it to coat with the oil, and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.
Divide the dough into four pieces and form each into a bowl. Set them on a cutting board and cover again. Let rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. (You can also refrigerate the dough at this point. Remove it from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking).