Sunday, August 19, 2007

C.S.P. - Culinary Sensory Perception

Beef Tenderloin Hamburgers with Blue D’Avergne Cheese
Onion Marmalade and Homemade Ketchup

Local Corn on the Cob, Slathered in Butter

Potato Salad with Celery, Scallions, Parsley and Balsamic-Dijon Dressing

C.S.P – Culinary Sensory Perception. That is when my boss is craving something and it just happens to be what I am cooking… My cell phone rang as I was driving down the road to the cottage on the lake, “Hi Cookie!” my boss hollered, her vibrant personality and positive energy spilling forth through the phone line. “Can we have hamburgers tonight?”, she pleaded, as if I had a choice in the matter. But as luck would have it, that was exactly what I was planning on making. “This is getting kind of freaky boss, we’re reading each others minds again”… Cookie, that is what my bosses have nicknamed me. Mr. X used to be in the rodeo and apparently rodeo cooks are nicknamed ‘cookies’. So, Mr. and Mrs. X both started calling me that one day, and it just sort of stuck.

It happened yesterday as well, this CSP thing. I was standing at the counter in the kitchen peeling 10 lbs. of blanched tomatoes and adding them to the ever-expanding bag of tomatoes I’d been picking from the garden over the course of the week. I figured that when I had about 20 lbs. I would make a giant pot of tomato sauce and portion and freeze it in Ziploc bags. I was also toying with the idea of making ketchup. “Hey Cookie, do you know how to make ketchup?”, my boss said just as I was thinking it. “Well, as a matter-of-fact boss, I do and I was just thinking…”, “Great, can you make us some?”. But of course… And, since hamburgers are really only a vehicle for ketchup, then what better food to go with America’s favorite condiment?

I pulled down the largest pot that I had in the kitchen, knowing the tomatoes would sputter and splatter as they fought the good fight. I filled the pot with the tomatoes and added the vinegar, spices and sugar, brought it to a hard boil and let it boil away for hours and hours. The house was filled with the pungent scent of vinegar and when I left the house to make a market run and returned again and hour later – the spicy, piquant aroma had reached out the front door and consumed the neighborhood. I stood on the sidewalk and took a deep breath, “I hope the neighbors are breathing this in and wondering what smells so good at the X’s house”, I thought to myself.

While my 20 lbs. of tomatoes sat on the stove reducing away, I got a bug in my bonnet to use up all the onions sitting in the bin in the pantry. I had so many different varieties; red ones, white ones, yellow ones, shallots – I decided to use them all just so that I could replenish my supply. I stood at the counter peeling and chopping the onions, muddled drops of tears and mascara leaving black streaks down my cheeks like an airport runway. My eyes turned puffy and red. Now would be a good time to get my bosses sympathy and ask for a raise, I thought to myself. But no, I suppose two months on the job is a little bit too soon. I hate wasting good tears. I filled up a pot with the onions and added a healthy pour of cabernet sauvignon, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, turned on the burner and then left them alone for a good, long time.

The nice thing about the butchers here in this Rockewellian town is that whenever I buy a beef tenderloin, they trim it up and grind the trim for hamburgers for me – without even having to ask! Find me one butcher in Manhattan that will do that for you? I’ve had a few tenderloins this summer and had a store of about 5 lbs. of ground tenderloin in the freezer and what better to make burgers with for my homemade ketchup? So, I weighed them out into half-pound balls and padded them down into patties.

Next, the grill: every client I have ever cooked for up until this summer has always had a gas grill. Ah, but one more of the many cosmic signs that my bosses and I were meant to be is that they have a charcoal grill and aren’t afraid to use it. Personally, I don’t find that much difference between a gas grill and a grill pan on the stove. When I grill, I want charcoal! And when I want charcoal, I want hardwood charcoal – not those pre-fab, e-z-lite briquettes of chemicals and who-knows-what. Charcoal briquettes are kind of like sliced bread – convenient, over-rated and flavourless. Hardwood charcoal burns really hot, much hotter than briquettes, and it imparts so much more flavor. So, I piled my charcoal into a mountainous pyramid and set it ablaze…

After spreading the embers, I dropped my patties in a circle around the grill so they could feed off of the heat emanating from the center without being directly on top of it. They sizzled away, forming a perfect redish-brown crust. Even I was impressed at my own grill job. The charcoal grill has taken some getting used to, but I’ve had all summer to practice – proper coal quantities, coal placement vs. food placement, etc. – but all that work was finally paying off. When my burgers were just about finished, I mounded them with slices of Blue D’Auvergne – one of my favorite blue cheeses; rich and creamy with a pleasant bite. I served the burgers atop fresh whole-wheat rolls from the local bread maker, scooped on my caramelized, sticky onion marmalade and a healthy dollop of homemade ketchup. Now, that is what a hamburger is all about.

My bosses asked me to join them and their family for dinner tonight, and usually I would decline because I have this “thing” about eating hamburgers I’ve prepared myself. Hamburgers are the food of kicking back and relaxing. I like to sit in a pub, drink a Hefferweisen and be waited upon while I eat my hamburger - then I know I’m relaxing and not working. But tonight I obliged and sat with the family – and boy, I wouldn’t have missed it for the whole, entire world. My bosses said that my hamburger was better than their favorite hamburger from the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. “I think this is one of the best, Cookie”, Mr. X said to me, a half eaten burger in his hand, and a thick blob of ketchup and onion daringly close to sliding down his hand. I realize it’s a pretty bold statement to make, but I had to agree. The tenderloin, the proper grilling, the blue cheese, the onion marmalade, the homemade ketchup, the fresh buns – it was a hamburger masterpiece. And, like my new bosses and new job, a match made in heaven. The 2003 L’Aventure Syrah was a welcome change from my usual beer-n-burger pairing. I would definitely sit and enjoy my own hamburgers again, as long as they taste exactly like this.

I have to wake up early tomorrow and put together some sandwiches and snacks for our flight to Seattle to see the yacht. Apparently they don’t have a meal service on the private jet. What kind of cut-rate airline is this anyway?

I’ll be flying out with the bosses and the interior designer. Rumor has it that the walls and the walk-in fridge is in in the galley. The floors are down and lined with the location of all the shelving, cabinetry and appliances awaiting my inspection and approval…

Someone pinch me, I think I’m dreaming…

Simple Homemade Ketchup

(Make the ketchup in the largest pot possible so there is plenty of room for the tomatoes to splatter. And, be cautious when stirring while the tomatoes thicken – molten blobs of tomatoes splattering on your arms are not fun! But any burn you may earn is worth it…)

8 Quarts peeled tomatoes (about 20 lbs)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Put all ingredients in a large stock pot. Allow to boil until reduced by half. Lower heat and stirring often to avoid burning, reduce by 1/4 or until very, very thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Puree in blender. Adjust seasoning if necessary.


prcrstn8 said...

Ketchup? The NYC Dept of Ed categorized it as a vegetable once, outraging everyone. Personally, I think it's more than just a vegetable - it's a complete food group!


prcrstn8 said...

Ketchup? The NYC Dept of Ed categorized it as a vegetable once, outraging everyone. Personally, I think it's more than just a vegetable - it's a complete food group!


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