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While living in NYC, I worked at Rouge Tomate, an fancy upper-side farm-to-table restaurant. I look back on my days at Rouge Tomate with love and hate. The intensity and pace of the kitchen are like nothing I can describe. There’s nothing like a true southern girl trying to survive in a successful Manhattan kitchen run by seasoned New York chefs. They had never seen anyone like me, and I had never seen anyone like them! But I made wonderful relationships and learned amazing things about food. I was pushed well beyond what I thought were my limits, and I grew so much as a cook and a person.
Last year, Rouge Tomate opened a food cart right outside of the Central Park Zoo. My favorite thing to order was the B.L.T. with thick, maple bacon, luscious red tomatoes, and crisp spring lettuce in between two thick pieces of fresh sourdough. The chilled sweet corn soup and fresh juices were also wonderful.
Today is the opening day for the Rouge Tomate’s food cart 2012. The menu features 2 different burgers with toppings like salsa verde and arugula, pickled ramps and horseradish yogurt. There’s also a moroccan chicken sandwich with minted yogurt, harissa sauce, and wild arugula. For the vegetarians, the cart offers a “meatless greek” with portobello mushroom, feta, tomato, and cucumber tzatziki. I suggest Rouge Tomate lemonade – it’s the perfect balance of mint and lemon with a touch of bubbly zip.
If you’re in the area, stop by the cart at 64th and 5th! You won’t be sorry!
Check out this article featured on the New York Times Diner’s Journal
This past week has been a busy one, cooking for lots of different things. Even though I love cooking, I’ve noticed that I still cook in a very disciplined and systematic way… remnants of my cooking days at Rouge Tomate I think. I’m working on relaxing. Making my time spent in the kitchen more of dance than a military march. It will take time…
I thought I’d post a series of pictures – the life in my kitchen this past week
We had Easter brunch with 4 families from church. These carrot cookies looked so festive and pretty on the dessert table! The kids LOVED them. If you have a birthday party, spring/summer event, or want to brighten someone’s day, I can do any shape. Feel free to contact me to order! (also applies to any desserts you see – cakes, brownies, pies, and more!)
The Easter bunnies had potential… I ran out of buttercream after the carrots and was too lazy to finish! I’ve nibbled on these cookies all week long. They are almond sugar cookies with a lemon glaze. So delicious!
I promise I do more than bake, but I love sweets… These are vanilla macarons with grapefruit buttercream. Did you know most macarons are naturally gluten-free? These are such a fresh treat for a spring picnic.
I found these great miniature whole wheat loaves of bread at Central Market. They are made made in-house and are the perfect size for a breakfast sandwich. We had fried egg, turkey bacon, avocado, and tomato sandwiches for dinner one night last week! They were honestly so good.
I’m working on a new project right now – it involves testing a lot of recipes for scones (if you have a great family recipe, I’d love to hear your secrets!) The other day I worked on two strawberry scone recipes.
The first recipe involved the food processor, a lot of cold butter, and a rolling pin. Pretty typical right? I combined the flour, sugar, and other ingredients, and then cut in the ice cold butter, mixed in a cream/egg mixture, then added the strawberries. I rolled out the dough, cut the scones, brushed a little egg and dusted a little, and popped them into the oven. Successful, I thought. They came out warm and golden, slightly crisp on the outside, very inviting. I couldn’t resist eating a pinch, but I waited for batch #2 before performing the official taste test. As the warm dough hit my mouth, my first bite was good, but my second was less than good. I think the moment any combination of butter/sugar/flour/fruit first hits the mouth, the first reaction is always good, but it’s the second that is the tell-tale story.
The second scone recipe came from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, a Valentine’s gift from my husband! This recipe calls for a mixture of fats – butter, sour cream, and whole milk, a butter freezing-and-grating technique, no food processor, and a method of folding the dough to create fluff and softness. I was a bit skeptical but I proceeded as instructed.
The first step was to freeze sticks of butter, grate them using a cheese grater, and then pop the grated butter back into the freeze while preparing the rest of your ingredients.
After mixing the dry ingredients, I poured the frozen butter shavings into the flour, coated them well, and mixed in the other fats. This formed a relatively wet, inconsistent dough in the bowl, but once it was turned onto a floured surface and mixed a bit by hand, the dough was smooth and formed. Using a rolling pin, I rolled it flat, folded it twice, and then spread the strawberries and basil to cover the surface.
Then, I rolled the dough like I would a jelly roll or cinnamon roll and pressed it into a flat rectangle. By doing this, the berries were fully incorporated and layered, while maintaining the integrity of the dough. Scones were cut, brushed, and sprinkled and then into the oven to bake.
These came out of the oven visually more fluffy and appealing than the first recipe. My first bite of recipe #2 bursted with flavor, and the second had even more. This time, I couldn’t stop tasting!
The texture was soft and light mixed with just the amount of crunch and structure from the exterior. The flavor was complex with bright notes from the lemon zest and sour cream, sweet notes from the sugar, richness from the butter and cream, and freshness from the strawberries and basil. This was the scone I had been searching for! Stage 2 of recipe testing: how do they fair over night and frozen…
Strawberry Basil Scones
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook
16 Tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen whole
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, diced into medium chunks
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for counter
1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
Zest from 2 lemons
Preheat oven to 425.
Wash and cut strawberries. Place in freezer until needed.
Chiffonade basil and place in refrigerator until needed.
Remove 1/2 of paper from each stick of frozen butter. Grate 8 Tbsp butter, using large holes of cheese grater. Put back into freezer until needed.
Whisk sour cream and milk together and refrigerate until needed.
In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and lemon zest. Add frozen butter to bowl and toss until butter is thoroughly covered in flour.
Add milk mixture to flour/butter and fold together until the dough comes together (the flour will not fully incorporate until the next step)
Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Knead the dough (adding flour as needed) until it comes together (about 6-8 times).
Roll the dough into a 1/4″ thick square. Fold length-wise into thirds and then fold ends up to form an approximate square. Roll dough out again into 1/4″ thick square again.
Spread strawberries and basil over surface evenly. Lightly press into dough.
Roll dough like a jelly roll to form a tube. Using rolling pin, flatten tube into a rectangle, 1/2″ thick.
Cut scones into triangles. Melt 1/4 stick of butter, brush over scones, and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until browned on top. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
“Family Meal” is a common tradition in the restaurant world. Around 4 o’clock every day, cooks are sitting down together for their pre-service meal. Don’t be confused, though. It’s not social hour, it’s not relaxing, it’s more like ‘how fast can I scarf this down so that I can get back to my station to finish the 2500 things I need to do before service starts in 1.5 hours’. That’s more like it. It is also not a meal for the picky palate… nope, we don’t eat samplings of that’s night special or the new summer squash that just came from the local farmer. At least not at most restaurants. Family meal is conglomeration of left overs…left overs from past dishes, unused party food, greens on their way out of the door, you get the picture.
At Rouge Tomate, we had a “family shelf”. This is where all left overs/old food was placed, anything on that shelf was free game for family meal. Each station was in charge of a certain part of the meal… Pasta cooks always made the starch, Pastry always made dessert, Garde Manger always made a salad. Most days, I would chop a few vegetables and toss them into greens, whisk together a quick salad dressing 5 minutes before 4:00. I must say, I became very good at improvising yummy vinaigrettes.
On the rare day, though, I had time to put thought and effort into what I made. One of these days came on “Taco Family Meal” day, and I spent my spare time during service chopping a few things to make salsa. The flavor was good! So I asked one of the sous chefs to have a taste and critique it. He took a spoonful, thought about it for a moment, and said “this is good! you’re on to something.” This might have been one of my proudest moments at Rouge Tomate…
This is restaurant-style salsa, with a little bit of a twist. Serve it at a party and I promise, you will be wishing you had made 2 batches!
1 can Whole Tomatoes
2 TBSP Dark Brown Sugar
Juice of 2 Limes
3-5 Garlic Cloves
1/2 Bunch Cilantro
1.5 Cups Pineapple, small diced
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Kosher Salt, plus more
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, plus more
*1 jalapeno = mild; 2 jalapenos = medium/spicy
Preheat oven to 500F. Drain tomatoes, reserving tomato juice. Split tomatoes and scrape out seeds. Lay flat on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over tomatoes and roast for 20 minutes, or until tomatoes are charred and there is only a little bit of juice. Set aside to cool.
On grill pan or stove top, grill jalapenos until charred on all sides. Once cooled, peel and remove seeds. If you prefer spicy salsa, save a couple of seeds for your salsa.
Using the food processor, blend reserved tomato juice, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno, honey, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Blend until mixture is only slightly chunky, making sure that there are no large bits of garlic.
Add roasted tomatoes and pulse 5-10 times. Salsa should be chunky.
Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl, fold in pineapple, and season with salt and lime juice. Chill and serve!
*Side note – I love using pineapple in salsa, but you can use any fruit you choose! I’ve tried watermelon, mango, peaches… be creative!