Just a little note to thank you so very much for my birthday present this year. It was truly inspired. As you know, from your recent Skype conversation, Karen Lee is absolutely lovely, so I was in high spirits as I skipped across town this morning to learn some handy hints and tasty ideas in her Upper West Side kitchen.
Luckily I, and a few others, arrived a little early and so we were able to help in the cake baking that would serve as our dessert later on. What a cake. Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake with a Chopped Pecan Topping. I was hard pressed not to grab the bowl and get stuck in pre-oven. Not being in my own home I decided against it and remained focused on Karen’s teachings. I should already know this about baking, but it was a valuable reminder that measurements are key. As mother always tries to instill upon me, “Don’t guess!” She’s right you know. It is absolutely about precision to achieve the perfect cake texture: measurements, temperature and time are all crucial in the ultimate success or failure of a cake. I made a note.
As the cosy 30th Floor apartment began to infuse with a rich smell of baked goodness, we began on our Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad with Sauteed Prosciutto. Well I do love a Puy lentil, and of course my love of cheese goes without saying, so as we boiled the lentils in a makeshift stock of one carrot, a piece of celery and some chopped onions, I was beginning to get peckish. Always taking notes and trying to soak up Karen’s expertise for future dinner party successes, my fellow students and I were all firing questions at our Culinary Master, to which she responded promptly and with a keen enthusiasm. To see a really great cook in her own kitchen, keeping the place ordered, focused and managed perfectly, was a treat.
So while the lentils were simmering, we began to prepare a Roasted Eggplant Salad with Fresh Mint. Ever the fan of ratatouille and all it’s analogues I was intrigued to see how eggplant (a vegetable that terrifies me after several failed attempts at its preparation) could achieve greatness alongside the staple tomato and shallot. As that was roasting away in the oven, following an hour of sitting quietly in a coating of salt (to minimise the amount of oil needed for its cooking), we began to put together the components of the lentil salad. Alongside our finished masterpiece came deliciously warmed bread from Hudson Bread and within minutes it was devoured. A theme of the afternoon.
Now we are in the final moments of the eggplant preparation; eggplant, tomatoes and shallots tumbled together in a pan and then loaded onto a clean white serving dish and garnished with fresh mint. I quickly snapped a few pictures with my camera, all too aware of the ferocious nature of my fellow students when exposed to Karen’s cooking.
As the last spoonfuls of eggplant salad were gobbled up we began on the meat. Four huge steaks, sister your eyes might have fallen out of your head, were plonked in front of us. After a quick discussion on cuts and preparation techniques we began mixing up two dry rubs to marinade our main course. Then as the steaks bathed in their curried flavouring we started on the couscous. A more colourful couscous I have never seen. And my tummy, already well-fed, was eagerly reserving room. We seared the steaks and popped them in the oven as the couscous began to take shape. A vivid yellow base colour was speckled with chopped roasted almonds, red peppers, green scallions, parsley and mint, dressed up in a simple olive oil and lemon juice and served to us as our chef began carving the meat.
What seemed like moments must have taken at least a few minutes and all our hard work was complete. We had been more than rewarded for our interest and Karen’s wonderful knowledge and clear love of food left me eager to begin cooking as soon as I set foot back in my kitchen. As we rounded off a beautiful Sunday afternoon with a slice of cake and a generous dollop of mascarpone cream, I was content. Blissfully content.
Darling sibling, what a great gift from you. And I only hope I can recreate these treats for you and Family Ashbridge at Christmas as a real thank you.
PS I have attached some of the photos I took throughout the afternoon.
Karen Lee Cooking