Monday, May 30, 2011

Iron Chef: Open Kitchen Style

A culinary space to eat, cook and entertain is how owner Hue-Chan describes her restaurant/commercial kitchen/catering business.  We describe it as delicious fun.  Open Kitchen is, as their web site states, a hidden gem nestled in the suburbs of DC.

We first found out about Open Kitchen through Slow Food DC .  Back in March we attended the Slow Food U demonstration at Open Kitchen: Homemade Breads and Spreads to Share with Friends and Family, where we learned how to make five different breads and three tasty spreads.  

During this class we got to talking to Hue-Chan and the chefs and learned more about their business.  It turns out in addition to all the other classes, the catering and restaurant service, they also do special events for groups - like cooking demonstrations and competitions.  One of the team building exercises that they run for companies is an Iron Chef-like competition.  And what does one need when one runs an Iron Chef-like competition?  How about some food lovin' judges??  Why yes, we would be interested:)  

A few weeks ago that magical e-mail showed up and our time had come!  So we put on the eatin' pants and said bring it on!    

In addition to us there were two other lovely judges.  The veteran: Gabe, former owner of Pica Deli Gourmet and Wines and current sommelier and wine specialist with Select Wine; and the other newbie: Amy, a scientist by trade, she and her friends enjoy experimenting with food testing taste, texture and technique and writing about it in their Food Lab blog.  

So the team-building company came in and were divided into five teams of 4-5 people each, the ingredients were reveled and they were given 15 minutes to brainstorm and come up with a plan.

There were lots of dry, dairy, starch and produce ingredients provided.  Chicken was the protein.

The Open Kitchen professional chefs were made available for answers, a bit of guidance and some insight.

During the cooking we judges were able to go around and visit each team and see what they were coming up with.

After one hour and 45 min to cook the teams each presented 3 dishes to the judges. 

There was lots to try!  Lots of chicken, some salads, a soup, and even a dessert.


Remembering that these aren't professional chefs, we judged each team on three categories:  taste, presentation, and creativity.  Some were better than others and we did have to take off points for the chicken that wasn't cooked:)   

In the end each team did OK and most importantly it was a TON of fun.  We got to taste some awesome food (thank you Chef Jackson!), great wine (thanks Gabe) and got to spend a evening with like-minded, fun, foodie people.  Does it get better than that?

If you get a chance check out Open Kitchen for lunch or dinner or even a class (they have BBQ and cooking with beer classes if you need a Father's Day gift idea).  They are in Falls Church, right off of Rt 7 and are an Open Table Fit for Foodies Diner's Choice Award winner - you know we are always satisfied with the best, we wouldn't steer you wrong!

Hope we get to do it again - we had too much fun! Thanks Open Kitchen!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Le Jardin

Fava Bean  Plants
So we are taking part in a "community" garden project started by the Fabulous Beekman Boys.  There are 10,000 beginner and established gardeners all around the country planting the same 10 varieties of heirloom vegetables.  We purchased the seeds from Williams-Sonoma and every 2 weeks we get a newsletter letting us know what to do next and what our veggies should be doing now.  So far it has been quite fun.
Fabulous Beekman Boys!

Of course, not content with just 10 veggies, I also planted some additional cold weather seeds:  peas, fava beans (which I will enjoy with a nice glass of Chianti) lots of different lettuces and some arugula.  We use the Square Foot Garden method. 

This is our third year and each year it gets bigger and better.  We started with one box, last year we added another for just asparagus, this year we added 2 more new boxes.  We are now up to four 4x8 raised bed boxes. 

My Winter box, when these are done I'll use it for Fall veggies

It is a super easy system.  The idea is to build a raised bed, divide the space into sections of one square-foot each, and then plant vegetables in the amount of space they need. Advantages?  Organic! And... reduced workload, less watering, very minimal weeding, and easy access to your veggies for admiring and harvesting. 
A few square feet of lettuce & peas

They are fairly simple to put together, this year we bought the corners and just slid the untreated lumber into the slots.  You can cover for winter, though we didn't do it this year.  But, it only took me 30 minutes this March to clean the box out and have it planted.

So last night we had the first real harvest of the season!  A few spears of asparagus (it takes up to three years before you can fully harvest), radishes and lettuce.  Nothing tastes as good or as fresh as veggies just picked out of your own organic garden!