Monday, February 16, 2015

Date Night In: Part 2 (The Chef and his Glorious Food)

So, as I was saying, a few snows ago...

My daughter gave me and my main squeeze the gift of a personal chef to come cook a meal for us.
She made it a complete date by taking our last kid away for a sibs' overnighter. Yay for sisters and brothers who enjoy being together and coordinate their busy schedules to make time for that.

There's a big smile embossed on my heart because of it.

In the 45 minutes between their departure and Chef Steven's arrival,  we had a glass of Edna Valley chardonnay, 2005.  Wow, was it ever good. I may have filled my glass a bit too full as I listened to Paul play his guitar for a bit.  I probably should have had a few crackers and cheese, or something, but I was saving room for every delicious morsel that was a-comin'.

The chef arrived at the door in his crisp white "lab coat," carrying a big black bag.  He was a friendly older gentleman, mid-50's I'd guess, pushing 60.  Paul helped him carrying in two additional bags.

I'm not sure if I said it or just thought it, but judging from all the luggage, I thought he might be staying the whole weekend.

"You are well-prepared," my husband said. Diplomacy is his gift.

"Oh, yeah, I  bring it all."

The meal we chose for him to prepare was an Asian-glazed salmon, yellow rice, and roasted asparagus.   Here he is demonstrating mise en place, as they say in professional kitchens.
I just LOVE the term mise en place (meez awn PLOSS).  It's a French term that means "putting in place" or organizing the ingredients in preparation for cooking, so that everything is ready for perfect timing.

I took a picture. I should have practiced mise on place with my camera settings before he got there, don't you think?

Or maybe I had the right setting,  but just too many ounces of the '05 Edna.

While I snapped pictures, he snapped asparagus.  The trick is to snap off the bitter ends. He says you can line up the stalks and cut them off, but there is a natural place in each stalk between the good part and the bitter part that you can feel.  I never knew that. I was in the stack-and-whack camp.

He then prepared the rice. Folks, this was the best rice we've ever had in our lives. And the best part? He microwaves it!  What?? A chef microwaving rice? Yes! Let me tell you how.

He started with Texmati brown rice (look for the canister with brown lid in your grocery store).

He poured a measured amount (recipe to follow) into a beautiful clay pot, added chicken low sodium chicken broth, perfectly diced red peppers, peeled scallions (outer layer is bitter, so remove it, he told us), some saffron threads. Saffron? Isn't that the most expensive spice in the world? Not any more, he said. We've learned to grow it in the states,  so a small tube of it is only about $8.   He said you can substitute turmeric for the cost and to get the yellow color, but oh, my, if you could have smelled the saffron ....

As he cooked I asked him how he got into cooking professionally. He said he used to be a correctional officer for 23 years, but when he retired, his wife encouraged him to go to culinary school because he enjoyed cooking so much. Why not make money at it?

You might still get cut with a knife, but it would be your own fault ,right?

 I still didn't have my camera meezed on ploss.

He didn't look blurry at the time, I promise.   I was feeling so good. Besides, sharp focus is overrated.

He minced the garlic cloves and told us, "If you want to make a garlic paste, just press your knife down on it sideways hard and slide it across the garlic." (He didn't make paste.)
 He was so incredibly tidy with everything. Every crumb, stray peel, or bitter end disappeared as he went along.

The Asian glaze:  soy sauce, fresh grated ginger (aaaaah-may-zing), honey, EVOO (he says he always uses first cold-pressed olive oil.  That's more important than the brand, in his opinion.  (Read the front of the label; it's there in small print.)

Whisk, whisk on his part. Wine, wine on mine.  The aroma was just as intoxicating as the Edna.

Next up, the salmon prep.  Wild-caught is better than farm raised, because it's more dense, he informed us.  It stays together better , is brighter pink, and just has better flavor.

Get that pan nice and hot.  "About an 8 on an electric stove."

 Skin side down first, sear those puppies. "Check for sticking. If they're sticking, don't try to turn them. Wait for them to sear completely. Then turn carefully and sear the other side. You want that meat to hold together. "

 Meanwhile the rice was cooking in the microwave.

5 minutes on high, followed by 13 on half-power, for the rice. Perfectamundo.

Salmon, which never really appealed to me before, was suddenly transfixed into a picture of gastronomic glory. I could hardly wait to taste it.

The asparagus went in when the salmon was turned.  It came out so shiny, all drizzled with olive oil, and seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper.  Paul had to pick at it.  I loved watching him toss him head back, grinning and  "mmm'ing and aah-ing".

We took our seats in the dining room while Chef Steven plated our delectable dish.
Is this not gorgeous?  Or shall I say, "gorge us"???

 My version of the meal through the lens:
Hubby's version.  Obviously he had controlled his Edna intake.

I asked the chef to take a picture of us, which he did.  I checked it for blurriness, and asked him for another, but Paul said forget it, let's eat. Chef Steven said, "Yes, eat before it gets cold!" 

His cooking is FAR better than his photography. 

But oh, how happy, how wonderful, how delicious.  I don't think we talked except to utter supper superlatives with every other bite. 

One delightfully memorable meal. 

We ate while he did the dishes. Every single dish he washed, which was just marvelous. Not so much as a fork left in the sink when he left. You can see my card there which we got from Sarah at Christmas and had kept as a teaser on the cabinet door till February 7th. 

And then the men packed up the cheffy luggage.  We tipped the man for his good service, thanked him profusely, and then got on with the rest of our date, 
which was a movie (Boyhood--pointless and never ending) and some apple fritters. 
Yup, hubby wanted apple fritters from the store, so he had brought them home. 
That was the perfect treat with after-dinner coffee and a warm blanket in front of the TV. 


Joyce said...

Sounds fab! I have some saffron in my cupboard hubs brought me from India. I just read Tumeric is the new anti-cancer food, so I guess I'll start using that too. I love spice. And salmon. And a chef who cooks and cleans up : ) Glad you enjoyed your meal!

Preeti Harris said...

What a lovely evening. It was definitely made superlative by your Edna-laden pictures and oh so funny writing, as always. I do have one question. Did you have any leftovers???

Zoanna said...

Yes, Preeti, we had leftovers, which was a WONDERFUL bonus. In fact, we had enough for 2 dinners and a lunch serving.

Sally Henry said...

Oh Zo, you crack me up! (And Edna valley chardonnay is one of my favs - I may or may not be able to identify with your, er, photo taking skills after Edna.) So glad you had such a wonderful and unique dinner together! One question - how did he mince the ginger? I've had SO many recipes lately that call for minced ginger, and my garlic press just doesn't seem to do the trick - ginger isn't as fleshy as garlic, apparently. Do share! :-)

Amy said...

that sounds just fabulous. and your recap was delightful :)

Lea said...

Sounds like a delightful meal and the fact that he cleaned up is just icing on the cake. I hired a chef to come to our home for Hubby's 60th birthday and do a dinner for 12. He absolutely made the biggest mess and didn't clean up one thing. I was livid!!!

Great gift from your sweet daughter!

Danielle said...

Sounds so delightful! We want to find out more of the details for how to hire him!

Zoanna said...

He used a raspe (as seen in the one of many blurry photos).