Your four-course, four-letter meal?

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Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Thu Sep 27, 2012 5:53 pm

I just watched the finale of Top Chef Masters (and am really pleased by the result, I'll add, without revealing a spoiler!). The challenge, served to 12 of this nation's critics, was an extremely clever one: prepare four courses and base each on, in this order, a love letter, a letter of apology, a thank you letter and a letter to yourself. One of the chefs did a progression that was very skilled and classic in a modern, high-end restaurant kind of sense (pea flan, cote du Beouf, a gratin), while the other really went 'out there' and did an extremely risky and highly personal menu involving stuff like beef heart, tendons, tripe and blood sausage, the latter item being plated with a fried egg and some poached oysters. That, he said, was what he would choose for a death row last supper--a letter to yourself doesn't get any more personal than that.

What would your four-letter meal look like, and why? I'll have to give this some thought myself.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Fri Sep 28, 2012 2:19 am

Very interesting! Any one of those four is going to take some thought.

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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:09 pm

So I have a good idea now what my four-course, four-letter meal would look like.

The Love Letter: to my husband, of course, this course is the food that is more emblematic of our current life together and the happiness we've had here in Birch Bay: a salad with two plump fresh Dungeness crab cakes. The salad would be leaves of mizuna and mache lightly drizzled with EVOO, lemon juice and Maldon salt, and the crab cakes will be seasoned with chile oil, black pepper, fresh corn cut from the cob and a fine dice of fresh jalapeno pepper, then coated with Panko. On the side, a dipping sauce made from mayonnaise cut with Melinda's Chipotle sauce.

The Letter of Apology: My grandmother was one of the most important people to ever grace my life, and there are so many meals I could make for her and each would involve one of funny stories that just made Grammy so uniquely, wonderfully Grammy. In this case, it's about Grammy's inability to be interested in any food she had not previously heard of. You could wax totally rhapsodic describing some out-of-this-world food to her and she'd sit there stone-faced, and when you were done she'd kill it with: "I haven't heard of that." Well, I used to take her out to dinner every so often, it was a great way of spending time with her and closing the gap between her and many of her favorite foods when driving herself became out of the question. And since one of her favorite foods was Mexican, I was excited once to take her to the El Torito Grill in Newport Beach to try Southwestern style Mexican food. I ordered for both of us the combo platter that had a blue corn taco, a blue corn cheese enchilada (cheese enchilada being her favorite Mexican item of all) and I'm not sure what else blue on it. When the plate arrived, Grammy just stared at her plate. And when I explained about the color of the tortilla, she gave me that look and I knew this meal was over: "I haven't heard of that." And not only would she not eat it, she was physically sickened by the very thought of eating blue food. So, to Grammy, a southwestern combination plate she'd love to eat, no blue: a sharp and tangy cheese enchilada in red sauce with a duck confit tamale and a green chile-cilantro sauce.

The Thank You Letter: to my mom, this would have to be, who died at the age of 44 before we could all grow up and show her the appreciation moms deserve. The food I associate with her the most are one-pot meals wherein everything cooked in the eight quart Revereware stock pot that I still own and use to this day. The meals were a convenient way to make a lot of something the kids could help themselves as we drifted in at different times hungry from play. Pots of meatballs, sludgy bean soups, "tamale pie", a strange mish-mash that she called "slumgullion" and kettles of chicken and greens cooked long and slow are among the many things I remember. She died well before I discovered posole, but I've often thought how much she would have adored that one-pot meal, all that stewed hominy (cans of hominy were a childhood pantry staple, however nothing more than pan-frying with butter was ever done with it) with that topping of raw, shaved cabbage. So for her I would make my Coyote Cafe posole, hominy simmered with browned pork blade steaks until the meat falls off the bone, onions and red and green fresh chiles, topped with Mexican cheese and a cool vinegary cabbage salad.

And the letter to myself? That has been the hardest of all to decide, and one of my first choices was a fresh charcuterie plate. But since I can't/don't make my own, I'd disqualify that choice and go with: homemade fried chicken, soaked in buttermilk and then dredged in spicy flour, hot from the skillet with an iceberg lettuce and parsley salad dressed with canola oil, white vinegar, salt and lots of fresh smooshed garlic.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Daisy D » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:43 pm

I had to let it marinate for a bit to figure out what I would really do/want.

Love Letter
Though I considered doing someone other than the obvious, my husband would be the most deserving to get this one. I have NO idea what I would make for him. Something with figs, pistachios, and lamb shank. But that's really as far as I get with it. I have no idea how I would prepare it or even consider preparing it. I just know that those three components would have to be included somehow.

Apology Letter
Hands down my mom would get this meal. Eggplant parmesan, but not a heavily breaded/fried version. More along the lines of a pan sautéed version that is barely breaded. Homemade tomato sauce my husband Kriss taught me how to make served over a bed of ever-so-slightly (barely touched the pan) wilted spinach (instead of pasta). I was not the easiest teenager/young adult and she deserves every apology I'm willing to give.

Thank You Letter
There are so many directions I could go with this one: parents, teachers, friends. And honestly I could pick one person one day and want a completely different person a week later. At the moment, I would choose my old manager who was lovingly referred to as the "work mom" for myself and several others. We worked together on the same team long before she was my manager. When she did become my manager she pretty much saved my career and gave me the chances I had never been given to prove my worth to the firm. It's because of her I'm in the job I have now. If I knew how to make it, I would prepare Chicken Cacciatore. However, the dish that comes to mind right now is chicken breast braised in a mushroom ragout served with macaroni & cheese. Simple, yes. But I've made it for her (well, an even simpler version) before and she loved it.

Letter to Self
Unlike Jenise, this was the easiest (and first) one to come to mind right away. Actually I thought about it when I was watching the night the finale aired. When Chris C. said the fried egg with blood sausage & pork bathed oysters would be his last meal, it made me think of my last meal. For years, whenever I'm asked what I would want to be my last meal on earth, I immediately jump to the lasagna my mom used to make when I was a kid. Layers of noodles alternated among layers of tomato sauce and a spinach ricotta mix that she would do. She didn't add the spinach to the recipe until we were a little older, but it was delicious. Honestly, it's probably more about the memories I have tied to the dish than the dish itself, but when I'm in the mood to splurge it is something I've been known to order from time to time when in a good Italian restaurant. It's probably been close to 20 years since she actually made it at home. She used to say she wouldn't make it again until she was teaching me to make it; maybe I'll have to work on that before we move out of state next year.

By the way, I'm Daisy. I live in northeast Florida - outside of Jacksonville - more commonly known in the area as southern Georgia. I've been lurking in the shadows of the board for a little over a month now reading & salivating over many of the posts I come across. I know Jenise by way of my husband and she convinced me to come out of the corner and actually join in the conversation.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Wed Oct 03, 2012 3:38 pm

Daisy, my friend, welcome!

Btw, on the lamb shank thing? Why not approach that like an osso buco, braise it until the liquid reduces and the shank turns crispy on top while velvet tender inside (about three hours baking time for that), add dried figs to rehydrate in that fabulous reducing liquid in the last hour, and top it with a pistachio-lemon-garlic gremolata.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Daisy D » Wed Oct 03, 2012 5:02 pm

Jenise wrote:Why not approach that like an osso buco, braise it until the liquid reduces and the shank turns crispy on top while velvet tender inside (about three hours baking time for that), add dried figs to rehydrate in that fabulous reducing liquid in the last hour, and top it with a pistachio-lemon-garlic gremolata.


You know him very well. And an osso bucco preparation is actually what came to mind originally. If/when we go out to dinner and I see that on the menu, I am pretty confident in guessing that's what he's going to order. If it was up to him we would have lamb once a week. I enjoy it, but that's a little too often for me.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Wed Oct 03, 2012 5:08 pm

Daisy D wrote:
Jenise wrote:Why not approach that like an osso buco, braise it until the liquid reduces and the shank turns crispy on top while velvet tender inside (about three hours baking time for that), add dried figs to rehydrate in that fabulous reducing liquid in the last hour, and top it with a pistachio-lemon-garlic gremolata.


You know him very well. And an osso bucco preparation is actually what came to mind originally. If/when we go out to dinner and I see that on the menu, I am pretty confident in guessing that's what he's going to order. If it was up to him we would have lamb once a week. I enjoy it, but that's a little too often for me.



Actually, I really just know that he enjoys great food--I've never seen him turn up his nose at anything, so he's either very open-minded or we like all the same things--and Italian wine, so I didn't figure I could miss with that suggestion. :)
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Wed Oct 03, 2012 11:33 pm

So far, I've only been able to come up with the love letter. For my wife, it would start with a faithful recreation of the larb from Siam, a restaurant that was the best Thai place in town for many years and a dish she still raves about. After a very necessary palate cleanser of a grapefruit sorbet (the only thing I can think of to bridge the courses), we'd go on to meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and roasted brussels sprouts. There is nothing that makes her smile more or that raises her spirits more after a bad day than that. It's not at all exotic, but it's what she loves and appreciates. Oh, and the larb would be served with brandy Manhattans while the meat loaf would go with a really good Chateauneuf or maybe an aged Crozes. Dessert would be caramel-rosemary-pine nut tart with homemade cinnamon ice cream.

There are certainly more interesting dishes that she would really like, but I'm limiting it to the stuff I know that she loves when I make it. For anything short of Thomas Keller creativity, this is what she'd love most.

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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Thu Oct 04, 2012 2:38 am

Mike Filigenzi wrote:There are certainly more interesting dishes that she would really like, but I'm limiting it to the stuff I know that she loves when I make it. For anything short of Thomas Keller creativity, this is what she'd love most.


I think you got the point of the exercise. They guy who won wasn't the one who served the most sophisticated, glamorous menu--though he's clearly capable of all that--it was the guy who cooked totally from his heart and moreover completely expected to lose because of it. He literally gambled it all away--and won. And though two of his dishes would have scared me to eat them (I have not to this day eaten blood sausage or raw beef heart, nor do I intend to), I was totally rooting for him. His choices were so darned ballsy, and he was perfectly willing to lose rather than compromise. That's why your meatloaf and my fried chicken belong in this conversation. :)
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Thu Oct 04, 2012 9:35 am

I could go with the blood sausage. The raw beef heart might be pushing things a little beyond my comfort level.

BTW, welcome to the FLDG, Daisy! Hope you find it a comfortable place to talk food.

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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Daisy D » Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:20 am

Mike Filigenzi wrote:I could go with the blood sausage. The raw beef heart might be pushing things a little beyond my comfort level.

BTW, welcome to the FLDG, Daisy! Hope you find it a comfortable place to talk food.


The blood sausage doesn't scare me as much as the beef heart tartare. If you put something in front of me and don't tell me what it is, as long as it looks appetizing, I'd more than likely be willing to try it. If I think too much about offal, the awful reflex in my brain kicks in and I would be extremely hesitant to try things.

Thanks for the welcome; happy to be here. I'm excited about the inspiration I get to actually explore my possible talents in the kitchen.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:53 am

Mike Filigenzi wrote:The raw beef heart might be pushing things a little beyond my comfort level.


I was encouraged--mind you, only slightly, given my aversion to eating the heart of anything--by Ruth Reichl's reaction to that dish, which went something to the effect of, "It was amazing, after 50 years as a critic, to be served something that not only had I not eaten it before but which was so delicious I understand that I *should* have eaten it before."
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Carrie L. » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:54 pm

Welcome Daisy! I love Ponte Vedra - a beautiful place. Are you a golfer??? You could be a golfball gourmet too, like Jenise designated me! :)
You will enjoy this forum very much. It's the best place in the world to bounce food and wine ideas around.
Hope to see you often.
Hello. My name is Carrie, and I...I....still like oaked Chardonnay. (I feel so much better now.)
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Daisy D » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:11 pm

Carrie L. wrote:Welcome Daisy! I love Ponte Vedra - a beautiful place. Are you a golfer??? You could be a golfball gourmet too, like Jenise designated me! :)
You will enjoy this forum very much. It's the best place in the world to bounce food and wine ideas around.
Hope to see you often.


Not a golfer even though I grew up around it. Most I did was hit some balls on the driving range in summer camps. Did run around on a course at night when it was literally part of our backyard. Definitely a water girl. Swam on swim teams in middle school and spent as many days at the beach as possible as a kid.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Carrie L. » Thu Oct 04, 2012 5:51 pm

Okay, just finished watching the finale and all I can say is, "Wow." Talk about risk taking. Yeesh. I'm not an offal person at all, so nothing about the meal appealled to me other than those few oysters poached in pork juices. Kerry's dishes all looked wonderful to me however.

So here's what I would have done.
LOVE: Would have to be to Len. After several "wrong" choices for love in my life, I am with the proverbial "Mr. Right (for me)." We've been together for a lucky 13 years and I've gotten to know his quirky palate probably better than my own. I would make him his two favorite things in one--seafood and pasta. I'd do lobster, littleneck clams, and New England bay scallops in a spicy tomato sauce with homemade, perfectly al dente linguine. (With NO saffron! :))
APOLOGY: Okay, not that I'm completely at fault here, but I contributed to the ending of a friendship with someone I was close with. If I were to make her an apology dish, it would be total comfort since we both love(d) to cook and had a similar "comfortable" style in the kitchen. I would make a creamy Lasagne Bolognese, and a dark chocolate bread pudding.
THANK YOU: This would have to be to my parents for exposing me to so many things growing up. They traveled extensively and were always bringing back stories and photos of food and good chocolate. (They also did a pretty good job of raising five kids. We are all grateful for them.) Because they are extremely fond of Asian and Indian food and love lamb too, I would make a dish of creamy curried lamb shank with some Asian spices and vegetables served over Jasmine rice.
TO MYSELF: This is probably the hardest one. Like all of you, I love food and love such a wide variety of food it's a tough decision. I would probably make a perfectly tender half duck with insanely crispy well-seasoned skin and a fruit and port wine sauce of some kind. Maybe blackberry. I would put the duck over extra-creamy mashed Yukon Golds with a side of sauteed garlicy greens.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Daisy D » Thu Oct 04, 2012 8:28 pm

Carrie L. wrote:
THANK YOU: ...I would make a dish of creamy curried lamb shank with some Asian spices and vegetables served over Jasmine rice.


I may have to 'borrow' this version one day very soon. Yes, my husband loves osso bucco, so I know I wouldn't go wrong with that one, but this sounds so interesting and different to me at the moment. It might be the nasty weather outside but a warm cozy curry dish of any kind sounds really good right now.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Jenise » Sat Oct 06, 2012 5:16 pm

Carrie L. wrote:Okay, just finished watching the finale and all I can say is, "Wow." Talk about risk taking. Yeesh. I'm not an offal person at all, so nothing about the meal appealled to me other than those few oysters poached in pork juices. Kerry's dishes all looked wonderful to me however.

So here's what I would have done.
LOVE: Would have to be to Len. After several "wrong" choices for love in my life, I am with the proverbial "Mr. Right (for me)." We've been together for a lucky 13 years and I've gotten to know his quirky palate probably better than my own. I would make him his two favorite things in one--seafood and pasta. I'd do lobster, littleneck clams, and New England bay scallops in a spicy tomato sauce with homemade, perfectly al dente linguine. (With NO saffron! :))
APOLOGY: Okay, not that I'm completely at fault here, but I contributed to the ending of a friendship with someone I was close with. If I were to make her an apology dish, it would be total comfort since we both love(d) to cook and had a similar "comfortable" style in the kitchen. I would make a creamy Lasagne Bolognese, and a dark chocolate bread pudding.
THANK YOU: This would have to be to my parents for exposing me to so many things growing up. They traveled extensively and were always bringing back stories and photos of food and good chocolate. (They also did a pretty good job of raising five kids. We are all grateful for them.) Because they are extremely fond of Asian and Indian food and love lamb too, I would make a dish of creamy curried lamb shank with some Asian spices and vegetables served over Jasmine rice.
TO MYSELF: This is probably the hardest one. Like all of you, I love food and love such a wide variety of food it's a tough decision. I would probably make a perfectly tender half duck with insanely crispy well-seasoned skin and a fruit and port wine sauce of some kind. Maybe blackberry. I would put the duck over extra-creamy mashed Yukon Golds with a side of sauteed garlicy greens.


Carrie, if you'd like to write a letter to me I'd be happy to join Len for that first course--you wouldn't have to make anything special. :mrgreen: Your menu sounds great. Btw, I too would definitely have preferred to eat Kerry's meal but that's just because I'm such a weenie when it comes to what used to call "variety meats". Kerry's pea and proscuitto course kind of had me going too.

Reading your comment about his favorite things, made me think to ask Bob yesterday as we drove up to Vancouver what he would describe as his favorite foods for a "love letter". He had a hard time answering that. First of all, he pointed out that the frequency of repeats around here is "between 18 months and five years" so in a sense he never gets too attached to anything, though by the time he said all that he was ready to go with, and ask for soon, roast chicken. It really is the one thing he'll ask for from time to time. He also said he especially loves my salads where I combine something on the plate with dressed greens for a light refreshing first course. Bingo, then, on my choice of the crab cakes.
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Re: Your four-course, four-letter meal?

Postby Carrie L. » Sat Oct 06, 2012 5:31 pm

Jenise wrote:Carrie, if you'd like to write a letter to me I'd be happy to join Len for that first course--you wouldn't have to make anything special. :mrgreen: Your menu sounds great. Btw, I too would definitely have preferred to eat Kerry's meal but that's just because I'm such a weenie when it comes to what used to call "variety meats". Kerry's pea and proscuitto course kind of had me going too.

Reading your comment about his favorite things, made me think to ask Bob yesterday as we drove up to Vancouver what he would describe as his favorite foods for a "love letter". He had a hard time answering that. First of all, he pointed out that the frequency of repeats around here is "between 18 months and five years" so in a sense he never gets too attached to anything, though by the time he said all that he was ready to go with, and ask for soon, roast chicken. It really is the one thing he'll ask for from time to time. He also said he especially loves my salads where I combine something on the plate with dressed greens for a light refreshing first course. Bingo, then, on my choice of the crab cakes.


I REALLY wanted a bite of Kerry's pea/proscuitto course. I wonder if the recipe's on Bravo's website. I'll have to check it out after this.
You know, I laughed when you said that about the repeats in your kitchen. Len has said that about us too. Funny. And when you said Bob would have to say roast chicken, it reminded me that "turkey dinner" probably would have edged out the seafood pasta for Len. I just didn't think about it at the time, but in hindsight I know that would be his preference.
You are welcome to come over for the seafood pasta anytime though. ;)
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