Friday, June 2, 2017

Chef Jason’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet” Dinner

Of *course* I had him sign the menu

If you’re living in San Antonio and didn’t know about Chef Jason Dady’s (@ChefJasonDady) recent appearance on Food Network’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet” (ICG), well, welcome back from whatever planet you just returned from. (Note: if you haven’t watched it and don’t want to know how it turned out, quit reading right here.) He did a marvelous job, in cooking, presentation, working with the camera, and above all, representing San Antonio to the wider food world. He made it all the way to the Final Three before host Alton Brown eliminated him. It was a great run.

How I didn’t hear about the next part, I’ll never know. (For starters, he didn’t tweet about it, and that’s rather unusual.) A friend heard about a special dinner (three seatings only) featuring some of his ICG dishes. All three seatings sold out within an hour, but she had the foresight to put herself on the waiting list. The night before, we got the call that we were IN!

That's Chef Jason in black

We arrived at a packed Tre Enoteca, and Chef Jason and crew were hard at work. (I cannot imagine the planning and logistics of serving 80 people 5 dishes, all at the same time.) Due to a massive traffic tie-up on I-10, we missed the reception and appetizers, but arrived in time for the dinner. 

The menu

Servers brought in each dish, and while we ate, Chef Jason chatted a bit about the dish and how it went down on the show. I’ll start there:

Chef Jason tells us about the dish and the show

Course 1: Soba Salad with Black and White Sesame Salad and Dashi Broth. He prepared this for the “Yin/Yang” round, where Alton encouraged them to showcase opposites. “You know I f***ing lost, right?” he asked, to much laughter. He said his goals were “not to get cut first” and to represent San Antonio on a national stage. The soba noodle salad was a perfect starter; you rolled up your noodles, then dipped them into one (or both) of the bowls of sesame puree. He was frustrated, though, that the show chose to omit the second part of the dish (and the fact that Alton apparently didn’t “get” the yin/yang theme he presented). Chef Jason made a rich dashi broth, which the servers brought around and poured into the sesame broth bowls. Totally different texture and taste.

The prettiest presentation, in my book

Course 2: Lightly Smoked King Salmon with Soft Poached Hen Egg, Asparagus, and LOTS of Lemon Zest. When the altar rose (and they really *don’t* know what’s under there), they were all surprised to find….nothing. The challenge was “your best dish with only five ingredients.” When this dish appeared on the show, I tweeted “That looks just like a @ChefJasonDady dish!” I’m not a big fan of salmon, but I could have eaten this all night. Delicately smoked, perfectly moist, and falling apart on the fork. The “LOTS of Lemon Zest” was a response to an earlier criticism that a dish was not “lemony enough.”

The coconut was charred under the grill

Course 3: Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallop with Thai Red Curry, Thai Herbs, and Coconut Ice. This week’s theme was “re-imagining a classic combination,” and Chef Jason drew coconut/lime. On the show, as he prepped the dish, Alton was under-whelmed with the “re-imagining” part. So Chef Jason quickly altered course to prepare something Alton had never eaten before. The result was this stunning coconut and Thai curry presentation. My only complaint: the jasmine rice underneath was uncooked (to hold up the coconut shell), and I couldn’t retrieve and eat the spicy and creamy curry sauce that ran out of my bowl. The coolness of the sea scallop perfectly offset the rather spicy sauce. He used liquid nitrogen to prepare the coconut ice. This dish gave him the win for that week of the show.

This reminded me of the "duck confit orchiette" dish at The Lodge

Course 4: Braised Pork Shoulder Ragu with Celery Root Ravioli. This week’s altar ingredient: half a hog. Chef Jason decided on a pork shoulder, with which he has a lot of experience. People often asked him if he practiced, and he tells them, “Only one thing: the pressure cooker.” It always amazes us on cooking shows that the professional chefs don’t think ahead on this score. They don’t use the things, of course (if a dish needs “low and slow,” that’s how they cook it.) But with only 45 minutes, the pressure cooker is the obvious go-to appliance. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen an amazingly talented chef waste 10 minutes trying to figure out how to put the fool thing together. So Chef Jason practiced this like a fiend and had it down pat. The pork shoulder just melted in the mouth.

Course 5: Porcini Crusted Elk Loin with Wild Mushroom, Red Currant Bordelaise, Blackberry Gastrique and Micro Arugula. Week One’s theme was “Into the Wild.” If you know Chef Jason, you know he knows his wild game, so he obviously went for the elk. This dish had a lot going on, and he liked how it came together; I’m pretty sure he said this was the dish he was happiest with. Alton had no criticism for him and plenty for the other chefs. So he was a little floored when Chef Izard won the challenge (“I had to keep my poker face on.”)

Dessert was a simple but delicious shortbread cookie. In response to a question, he said he has already been to New York to film something else. He didn’t share any further details, but we’ll be watching.

The event was such a success that I would bet he’ll do it again, if the logistical challenges aren’t too overwhelming. We’re both looking forward to seeing more of him on Food Network and Cooking Channel.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

OK, No Deck. Now What?

Do I sound like a broken record yet? We should have done this a long time ago.

On his initial survey, Dan (the contractor) took one look at the deck in back and declared, “I’d get rid of it.” The wood was bad, and over the years, the surface had settled in the middle. We agreed, but he couldn’t recommend what to do in its place until he literally saw the lay of the land underneath. If at all possible, we wanted to avoid the expense of completely replacing the deck (and so did he).

Of all the projects undertaken (and to be undertaken), this deck replacement stressed me the most. I had no idea what he would recommend, how much it would cost, or what it would look like. I put a guesstimate in my budget spreadsheet, but who knew?

Demolishing the deck.

Gary and Rueben quickly mowed through the wood (making a significant amount of racket in the process with their crowbars, circular saws, and sledgehammers; and making for a very nervous beagle). The hardest work was removing the concrete feet at ground level.  Fortunately, no bodies (or buried treasure for that matter) were discovered; only random bits of flotsam like a garden glove or hose quick release.

Dan recommended leveling the area as much as possible, then installing gravel to keep the dirt from washing away. (During a good rain, water flows from left to right, then out to the front yard, so loose dirt would all wash away pronto. I’ve tried laying mulch back there before, only to see it all flow out under the fence at the next rain.) He also suggested landscape fabric underneath to keep down weeds, and a garden border at the two edges to further help keep everything together.

The old deck and its replacement in progress

Best news: the cost was lower than expected and feared! Huge relief.

They removed a rail to let gravity do the work (note the open back gate)

The very next day, the guys arrived with wood, gravel, Quik-Crete, landscape fabric, flagstones, and garden border. They hauled in the gravel from the gate to the back alley (did you even know we had a gate back there?) and dumped it over the railroad ties onto the surface below. They also installed a very sturdy set of steps from the porch to the ground. Plus, they laid (and countersunk) some flagstones to make a path.

The beautiful results

We are thrilled with the result. (Katie the Beagle was snooting around so much that her nose was white.) It’s easy to walk on, and (bonus!) the grill no longer sits on a wood surface. Katie can easily hop off the porch onto the ground with little trouble (for whatever reason, she won’t use the stairs). The ice cream table and chairs now on the porch are (obviously) a work in progress but will look fabulous when done. And I promise we’ll move the firepit away from the house while in use.

Next up: sweat equity while we wait for Phase II (interior painting), to begin after Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Spiffing Up the Exterior

With all the dirt washed away, time to address issues on the exterior.

Den window: before, during (see old wood on ground), and after

The wood trim really needed replacing in many places (more than we thought), and all of it needed a good paint (even after the power wash, some areas looked a little dim). 

Front porch before and after

Fortunately, the siding is HardiPlank and has held up well over the years, so no repairs needed there. They left us the paint remaining in the two 5-gal buckets, for touch-ups and for the new owners. We kept the same color scheme so as not to run afoul of our homeowners association.

West corner before and after

These guys are much braver on those tall ladders than I ever would be (and they’re working way up there). Some of the trim was a real challenge to remove, judging from the loud banging echoing through the house.

The last step: removing the deck. The wood wasn’t in good shape, and the whole thing sagged in the middle, so no way to salvage it. (Even if they’d power washed it, it would still have been a saggy deck and not a good selling point.)

I am very glad they have access to a dump site; it would have been a challenge for us to remove all this debris.

Working the front porch; Nathan on the circular saw; and that's not all the trash

We’re thrilled with the results, and once again, saying “We should have done this a long time ago.”

Next up: So what replaces the deck?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Washing Away 18 Years of Dirt

Surprise! (Not.) Our contractor recommended a thorough power wash as a first step, before starting any other exterior work. Frankly, we considered doing this even before the decision to sell, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. A colossal amount of dirt builds up over 18 years.
Back soffit before, during, and after cleaning.

Gary and Rueben did a fabulous job, even getting up on some pretty aggressive ladders to get the soffits on the upper level (which must be at least 20’ off the ground).

As they washed the back porch, they revealed a bit of what the deck actually looks like under all that dirt. But with deck removal soon to follow, they didn’t wash it.
Revealing what's underneath all that dirt on the deck.

Once the dirt washed away, we discovered more trim that either needed replacing or painting (or both).

And lest you think it doesn’t make a big difference:
Top: sidewalk not yet washed. Bottom: washed.

Side note: Katie the Beagle was not pleased. Between the water, the noise, and the unfamiliar people, she stayed close by my side all day. Bruce expressed it perfectly (in her “voice”) when he got home: “DAD!!! They put my house through a car wash!!”
Back porch before and after power washing.

Even without trim repair and painting, the house looks magnitudes better without all that dirt. And the neighbors have started to notice all the commotion about the house. I’ve told a couple of them of our decision, but not everyone knows yet. And once again we said, "We should have done this a long time ago."

Next up: trim repair and painting, plus painting the siding.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Finalist Again! Central Market's Apple Recipe Contest

We interrupt our normally scheduled "get the house ready to sell" programming for a cooking update. In October, Central Market sponsored an apple recipe contest; once again, we entered, and once again, we were finalists. (8 contests, 8 finals appearances; not bad.)

We worked on recipes over a weekend. Bruce prepped a sweet recipe (saving the idea for next year), and I modified my Frannie's cornbread dressing recipe (thanks for the idea, Robyn!). I added apples and mild Italian sausage to the recipe, and substituted apple cider for some of the chicken broth. They have changed the rules, so we were able to submit both recipes.

After a longer-than-expected wait, an email informed me they selected the dressing recipe as a finalist. Finals scheduled for two days hence. Scramble to rearrange Friday/Saturday schedule. At least we weren't out of town.

I did the bulk of the work on Friday; all I had to do on Saturday was cut up the apple, stir everything together, and pop into the oven. I plated at the store.
Frannie's Cornbread Dressing with Apples and Sausage

During preparation, we were all surprised when the Spurs Coyote showed up! He wasn't going to do much eating in that costume, but he was fun to have around, very interactive, and very generous with photos. (Kids at the store went berzerk.)
From left: Apple Quince Tart, Apple Cilantro Slaw, Vietnamese Summer Rolls, and Apple Bundt Cake

Four other finalists presented the pictured dishes (two savory, two sweet). As usual, we each presented to the panel of three judges (none of whom I recognized).

After several minutes of deliberation, they selected the apple-quince tart as the winner. (We learned during the Hatch contest that the judges have a predeliction for sweet dishes, although Bruce won once with a savory recipe.)
He tried to abscond with it after the photo.

It's always fun to participate, and as corny as it sounds, it was a lot of fun to meet the Spurs Coyote. 

Watching carefully for their next contest.