Sometimes I really miss my favorite Austin restaurants. Though it’s true that living an hour outside of Austin’s bustle and commotion is nourishing to the soul, it’s also true that what feeds the soul isn’t what feeds the body.
I miss the candlelit steakhouses with their signature takes on creamed spinach or lobster mac and cheese, the glittering seafood palaces with their sensitive, deft handling of salmon crisply seared and served rare. I miss the trendy small restaurants with their garden plots of baby greens and fresh herbs, their locally sourced foods and the latest rising star presiding in the kitchen. (Not that we ever went to those trendy places, mind you. They’re hard to get into. Mostly I miss the idea of them.)
And it’s not just the best restaurants that we’re far away from. It’s all of them. Sure, franchise food is closer—isn’t it always? But so what? It’s franchise food.
So most nights the only way we’ll eat is if we cook. Fortunately, we’re up for that.
Enter . . . Chef Rooke!
See? I bet you thought I was kidding.
Behold Chef Rooke’s batterie de cuisine!
Okay, that’s just a few whisks. But they’re emblematic of the whole batterie. Which I’ve spent more than three decades collecting. Not just whisks, but also bakeware, saucepans, sauté pans, skillets, roasting pans, mixing bowls, microplane graters, enameled cast iron, stock pots, small appliances, thermometers (for everything from yeast to candy to instant-read to the kind you leave in while the roast is roasting), cookbooks and every other cooking-related thing you can think of.
Do I use it all? Of course! Well, except for what I don’t. Though it’s embarrassing to admit, on rare occasions I’ve purchased a cooking utensil I thought was vital to an adventurous, smoothly humming kitchen. And then it sat in a drawer or on a shelf, disconsolately gathering dust. (As well as, I’m sure, naturally occurring yeast particles. Which is something else I’ve always wanted to work with in the kitchen.) The question was never, “Why would I need a wooden roller with a ravioli-shaped pattern for mashing the two pasta layers together and then cutting it into ravioli which I’ve previously stuffed with my own filling?” The question was, “Why on earth wouldn’t I?”
Anybody need a pudding mold?
You can see the appeal, right? I did too. Never used it. You’re welcome to have it. Just say the word and I’ll ship it to you. Free.
But such past mistakes aside, the forever home kitchen is now running like a well-oiled machine. (Hence the Chef Rooke jacket, a stove-warming gift from Glen and Katie.) One night I got so carried away with the exhilaration of making dinner that I postured and stomped around like some WWE wrestler (or like Gordon Ramsay?), yelling, “What kind of kitchen is this? I’ll tell you what kind! It’s a freaking working kitchen!” While poor Glen was trying to watch the 6 o’clock news.
Some nights the chef’s table Chez Rooke will feature a meal to light one’s tongue on fire, like Cajun Pasta Alfredo with Lobster (accompanied by garlic toast made with homemade potato bread!):
Other nights, dinner will be one of plain, but lyrical, simplicity, like these seared and roasted pork loin chops:
Cooked in my new favorite skillet from Smithey Ironware Co., by the way (click here to see their website). This thing is awesome. It arrives at your door already perfectly pre-seasoned and smooth as glass:
Often I’ll serve a salad of baby greens with my all-time favorite dressing. Here’s the recipe, which I make spring through fall when the basil is growing:
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed to a paste with sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 basil leaves, rolled and sliced into fine shreds
2 spoonfuls of freshly grated or shredded Parmesan
Juice of 1 lemon
Stir or shake well before pouring over delicious, tender green leaves. Great over butter lettuce!
• The quantities listed are approximations. The flavor profile can vary widely depending on how juicy the lemon is, how much salt and pepper you prefer, how large the garlic cloves and the basil leaves are, etc. Just taste after you’ve stirred it together. I tend to like mine lemony, and I’ll usually add some juice from another lemon, along with a splash more olive oil.
• I like rather a lot of ground pepper in mine.
• It’s not necessary to crush the garlic to a paste with the sea salt; you can add the salt on its own. I just think the dressing ends up tasting a little better that way. (Plus the salt is already half-dissolved by the time you add the garlic to the oil.) By all means do what’s easier.
• Do you want teaspoonfuls of Parmesan? Or tablespoons? Up to you. I lean more toward tablespoons. (I think I’m seeing a pattern here.)
• The dressing looks its best when freshly made before using, because the basil stays bright green for only a short time. But if you don’t feel like making only enough dressing for one night’s use, feel free to multiply the quantities. I sure do! This picture is of a salad made with fresh greens, but dressed with a batch of vinaigrette mixed several days ago. The dressing still looks perfectly fine, and tastes marvelous.
You can try it with confidence! After all, it comes from Chef Rooke’s freaking working kitchen!
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