Saturday, November 10, 2012

Recreating an Experience and Making it Your Own

For the last several months my husband and I have been going to beer and food pairings. I have never been a big beer drinker. I was a Coors Light drinker for years and in the last few years I have become a fan of the wheat beer. We have a local brewery Hangar 24 that started offering Flight Formations where they pair a type of food with their beers. Man has this been mind blowing. Who knew some of these bitter beers were actually good?

Several weeks ago we attended a beer and food pairing dinner at Farm Artisan Foods in Redlands. This was our first fine dining beer dinner there. Let me say all the food and beer were incredible. Roberto & his team outdid themselves. One of the dishes we had was a butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter, served with Ommegang Scythe & Sickle beer. Now this was the best beer/food pairing that I have ever had.

Over one weekend we went out on a beer collecting trip. We went looking for some of the beers we had a few weeks ago at three different stores. We were lucky to find the beer from Ommegang and we brought that home. So now it was my turn to try to recreate the dish we had at The Farm.
Flour with a well with eggs, olive oil, & salt.

Now I was ready to get to work. I had some butternut squash from the farmer's market and I was ready to make homemade pasta. I happen to have Roberto's recipe for pasta so half the battle was done there. In the oven went the squash and then it was time to make the pasta. I like to do it the old fashioned way, by hand flat on the counter, no bowl required. Once the pasta was made and resting I went to work with the baked squash getting it pureed.

Roasted butternut squash.
Pureeing squash is easy. Once it is baked where a knife will slide in and out easily let it cool slightly then scoop the flesh out of the skin and put into a food processor or blender and pulse it until the flesh is creamy and smooth. Because squash has a lot of liquid in them I place cheesecloth into a strainer add the puree and let it drain for a few hours. With a large butternut squash you can get close to 1 cup of liquid from it.

Pasta dough with finished filling.
After several hours of separating the liquid from the puree, the squash was ready for me to make the filling. The filling consisted of the butternut puree, shallots, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. More water evaporates when you heat the puree, so it becomes more solid than runny. Adding the cream adds a richness to the filling. While the butternut mixture was cooling it was time to roll out the pasta into sheets to start the assembly process of the ravioli.

Finished ravioli waiting for boiling.
After you assemble the ravioli you then cut out the shape desired and place on a floured pan so it does not stick while you are finishing the other raviolis. The ravioli does dry out a bit, but don't worry about it. You then bring salted water to a boil and add a few of the finished ravioli at a time as not to crowd the pot and cook until the ravioli is tender. About 7 minutes.

Butternut squash ravioli ready to be eaten.
While the ravioli is cooking in a saute pan melt butter and let it begin to brown. Add fresh sage leaves and allow them to crisp up. Once the butter achieves a nice brown color without burning remove from heat. Place finished ravioli on a plate, spoon over brown butter and sage, finish dish with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and parsley. It is now time to eat the fruits of you labor.

Making pasta may seem a bit labor intensive and time consuming, but in reality it can be done in less than an hour and fillings or sauces can be made while the pasta dough is resting. This is something you can get the whole family involved with and what kids don't enjoy helping make dinner? It is also a way to introduce your family to vegetables in fillings that they might normally not eat. Have fun with pasta and for the adults try a beer you wouldn't ordinarily have with food.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Next Master Chef?

Since the first episode of the reality show Master Chef I have been sitting back thinking, "I could do that." Season's 2 & 3 went by and timing wasn't in the cards, so I patiently waited for the casting to begin on Season 4.  Applying was simple enough by filling out an online form and then printing out 14 pages of application and releases. Then the waiting began for when the casting call would be.

In early October the email arrived with the information I had been waiting for. November 3, 2012 at Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles I would audition for Master Chef.  Now the question was what would I make?  The Master Chef website didn't give you much information other than you need to bring a dish prepared, there is no place for you to heat or cook the food.  I knew what I wanted to bring, roasted pork loin wrapped in caul fat with caramelized fennel and onion.  Thankfully I didn't have to worry about having it hot as the judging was not on temperature.
Shaking Hands with Gordon Ramsey

On Saturday, November 3, my husband Doug travelled with me to Los Angeles for my audition.  We arrived at Le Cordon Bleu at 10 am and see several hundred people and who was greeting all the contestants waiting in line? The infamous foul-mouthed chef himself, Gordon Ramsey.  He finally made his way down the line to me and I was able to say hello and shake the hand of the man that is feared by many chefs. 

After about three hours of waiting to go in for my audition, I was called in with about 19 others. Once we were in the room we had three minutes to plate our dish before they came around and photographed us and our food. Once they were finished with that we were interviewed about ourselves and our food was looked at and we were questioned about it.  I didn't know what to think and I was only asked why onion with the fennel and I was told I had pretty plating.

One thing I noticed while in line and while in the audition room was that some of us had three digit numbers and some had the letter V followed by three digits. They didn't have to wait in line as long as those of us with only the three digits.  When the judging was finished they were the only ones asked to remain while the rest of us were dismissed. 

What did they do to get that letter? Why do they have that letter? Why weren't anyone without that letter called to remain? Is this show somewhat prejudged? Those questions I do have still to find the answer to. What I do know is we were told that we were not all no's and that we could still be called back.  Los Angeles was not the only audition city and thousands of others will be going through the same process I just went through.

Will I be the next Master Chef?  I don't think that is in the cards. No matter the outcome I do know I had a great experience doing something I love. 

* During the premiere episode of MasterChef in May 2013 one of the people I saw at the audition with the letter V in front of their number did make it on to MasterChef as one of the top 100. She made heart shaped cookies. Laughable, I'm sorry, but it is. Also, during the show one of my friends from high school appeared on the show. She was never shown with her falcon or with her dish. She answered a casting call and did not audition. My realization is MasterChef is just TV, they want the ratings and don't really care to have the best cooks if they did they wouldn't have had a guy with giant waterbugs in the top 100. As I said I wouldn't change my experience, but if I knew then what I know now.