Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Times Gone By

New Year's Eve is an interesting time for us restaurant folk; it's a mad dash to successfully complete one of the busiest nights of the year and hopefully manage to make it out for cocktails with those who mean the most to us before the stroke of midnight. This isn't always the case, but some of my fondest restaurant memories are set to the soundtrack of "Auld Land Syne".

Most restaurants opt for the "prix fixe" menu, meaning a limited menu of three to six items per category to choose from for one set price, for faster service and make it easier on the kitchen. While I do agree that it is easier, I have learned through my experience that customers who go to a restaurant do so because they enjoy the food that is already offered, so, as always, we will be serving our entire menu in addition to a special set of dishes that I have devised to accentuate the folklore of food eaten around the world by using ingredients and shapes that are considered lucky or that can bring wealth and prosperity in the next year. Check out my menu below for many examples.

Since I also had three nights of dinner service aside from NYE, I still needed a special to offer to our patrons while still bringing them good luck, so I stuck with the same entree for the entire week.

It's no secret that pork is my favorite choice for meat due to its diversity, but it is also commonly considered to bring good luck in the coming year. Most of the typical ingredients eaten for luck are done so out of symbolism, not because it is actually lucky (too bad for my four-leafed clover salad with rabbit's feet...). Round objects represent the year coming full circle; lentils resemble coins, and colorings like saffron and turmeric represent gold. Pork is twofold: pigs root forward, considered as progress, and their meat is fatty, translating to a fat wallet. After the shitty recession that we all have been enduring, I didn't take any chances with this one!

First, I developed a dry rub similar to what you would use on barbecue except that I doubled the brown sugar to compensate for the bitterness of the instant espresso powder; I used a quality version instead of ground coffee because it would dissolve completely and penetrate into the meat. Then, after a full day of marinating, I slowly roasted the pork shoulders at 275 degrees for about 4 hours until they were meltingly tender before slicing them into medallions.

In the south, beans are eaten because they swell when cooked, like you hope that your bank account will, and greens are common because they resemble money, so I slowly stewed red beans in Hungarian Paprika and some of my handmade ham. When ready to serve I sauteed them with onions, garlic, butter and some local purple kale, a variant of cabbage. The plate is finished with a rich sauce simmered with caraway seeds (a traditional ingredient in Dutch cakes and cookies), and topped off with a pinch of crispy fried pork belly for good measure!!!

Where I'm from, a traditional holiday gift usually comes from a loved one's kitchen. One of the most beloved homemade items (at least as far as my wife is concerned) is the Bourbon Ball, which is often enjoyed well into the new year, if they last that long. They are simply bite-sized balls formed from a mixture of finely ground Nilla wafers mixed with cocoa powder, chopped pecans, corn syrup, confectioner's sugar and, of course, bourbon.

So instead of me giving out tin boxes of these treats, I'm offering this cocktail interpretation instead: bourbon shaken with ice, Creme de Cacao for the chocolate and Frangelico in place of the nuts and strained into a martini glass rimmed with a fine dusting of Dutch cocoa powder!

Happy New Year!!!

With Love,